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Abstract

This article surveys the evolution of the historical literature on France and the origins of the Second World War. It links history writing about French institutions and policy-making to wider trends in French politics and society as well as to various approaches to understanding the history and culture of France. It argues that for many years the historiography was dominated by narratives of decline within France which were rooted in long-standing traditions of interpreting the French past in terms of decline, fall, and renewal. These were exacerbated by war-time and post-war political score-settling and by the increasing political dominance of Gaullism during the 1960s and 1970s. It also identifies a tendency among American and especially British historians to view French history and politics as terminally in a state of crisis as well as a Cold War tendency towards the militarization of historical interpretations of the inter-war period. It then traces the emergence of a fully fledged revisionist view linked, at least in part, to the growing prominence attributed to financial and industrial issues by the international historians of the 1960s and 1970s. It ends with a plea to move towards methodologies that focus on the interrelationship between cultural and material factors as the most promising means of taking the study of this important subject forward.