Obituary: Professor Jacques Droz

IT WAS Heine who said that if he thought of Germany at night, then sleep became impossible. Young people in France were forced to think of Germany. What was this state which had moved from the political chaos of the Weimar Republic to the barbarous Nazism of the Third Reich and then to the stability of the Federal Republic? Who were these Germans who, within a man's life-span, had made war against the French three times? If education had any meaning it had to explain Germany.

It was Jacques Droz who first appeared as the French historian who could devote his teaching, in the post-war period, to the story of Germany. (It was also Droz who made thousands of students familiar with the quotation from Heine.)

Droz spent his life studying German history. A Parisian by birth and education he began his research into the Rhine area in 1934 and therefore encountered Nazism in the region of Germany that the French always considered the welcome antithesis to Prussia. He continued his research and maintained his contacts with Germany when he was teaching history in the lycee at Colmar. He built up a considerable personal library which fell a victim to the German forces in 1940 and was plundered.

Droz had been called up and when he was demobilised after the armistice, he began to teach in Paris lycees. After 1944 he went into university teaching, was appointed to the Institute of Political Studies in Strasbourg, and in 1947 he became Professor of History at the University of Clermont- Ferrand, although he continued to give lectures at the Sorbonne, to which he returned as a full-time professor in 1962.

The works which he published dealt with the great problems of German history. Thus, the French conception of a nation was political and constitutional. One belonged to a nation because one wished to. The people of Alsace-Lorraine were French because they chose to be. But the Germans had a romantic conception of the nation. One was born into a nation, one belonged to the German nation by race and by attachment to the land where one was born. The people of Alsace were German by their language.

History added a complication. Napoleon was the creator of the nations of Europe. He simplified the complications of the German states and he expelled Austria from Germany. But the satisfaction that this brought to Germany was short-lived. German writers expressed their disgust with Napoleon's treatment of their country, and they called upon Germans to fight against the French.

For Droz, this was history which brought together ideas as well as political and diplomatic facts. In this he sought to distinguish himself from a colleague, such as Pierre Renouvin, who was a master of diplomatic history. His attitude towards the 1914 war was also different from that of the Renouvin school. Whereas they sought to find out who was responsible for the war, in his book (Les Causes de la guerre, 1973) Droz tried to discover how, by a series of mistakes and miscalculations, Europe found itself plunged in a war that nobody wanted. Droz was also one of the few French scholars who studied Austrian history in some depth.

He was very much the professor of the old Sorbonne. He believed that junior lecturers should be under his authority, and that they should make a point of changing their lectures at regular intervals. He equally believed that students should attend lectures and absorb the ideas and information that was provided for them. Consequently, during the 1968 student revolts, when graffiti supposedly expressed student beliefs, Droz was one of the few individual professors to be named.

This continued when he spent a very unhappy year as Professor at the University of Nanterre from 1968 to 1969. "Droz go home" was the most polite of the inscriptions.

He was also criticised because he represented what was termed traditional history. The rivalry between the Sorbonne and the Hautes Etudes where Fernand Braudel reigned, was often bitter. Droz persisted, as chairman of the history examining board for the competitive degree of the agregation, in maintaining high and traditional standards. On the editorial board of the Revue which studied the Second World War he was also anxious to maintain these meticulous requirements.

Droz fitted the accepted picture of the Sorbonne professor by being left- wing in the Republican tradition. He edited the Histoire generale du socialisme (1972-78), where his own contributions showed a French socialism which was exceptional because of its dependence on the French Revolution.

The last of his many works was a History of Anti-Fascism in Europe (1985). This was a synthesis of the various movements which existed in different countries after the march on Rome, until the declaration of war. Although he deals with many countries, including Belgium, England and the Balkan states, the greater part of the book is devoted to Germany and to the activities of those who left Germany and who continued their struggle elsewhere. Droz shows clearly both the contrast and the link between ideas and action. Anti-Fascism was an ideology; it was also a very real activity. Between the two there could be antagonism.

It could be that once again Jacques Droz is approaching a subject in a traditional manner. But here, as elsewhere, that tradition is relevant.

Jacques Droz, historian: born Paris 12 March 1909; died Paris 3 March 1998.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam