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Department of Archaeology


France: War, Landscape and Identity

The French research explores the past and current dynamics of heritage in relation to the destruction of landscapes as well as rural builtscapes and individual sites during war and their subsequent reconstruction, through a series of case studies.

The projects investigations into the histories of these sites run from the context of their destruction up to present concerns about the role of conflict heritage, commemorations and the centennial anniversary of World War I in 2014.

The research conducted by project partners based at Université Paris Sorbonne (Paris IV) and the University of Cambridge has provided insight into the complex relationships between physical form and symbolic meaning that emerge as central to understandings of the process of post-conflict reconstruction and the life of metaphoric ‘sites of memory’ such as Verdun. The case studies show how the physical battlefield was shaped by but also itself shapes how the original event is remembered and commemorated in later times. For instance the aura of realism and authenticity attached to physical milieus can be used to validate new ‘memories’ of an event, which in fact shape and construct those milieus. The selection of cases representing a spatial range from landscape to site allows for analysis at multiple scales and has illuminated a number of issues relating to the themes of ‘reconstruction as a contested process’, ‘temporality’, the concept of ‘survivorship’, and the processes of ‘abandonment’, ‘sacralisation’ and ‘materialisation’.

These case studies include:

i) the battlefield of Verdun,

ii) the villages détruits [destroyed villages] within the designated ‘Red Zone’ 

iii) the sites of the Ossuary at Douaumont and the Monument to Victory, Verdun.

The three case studies in this work package are geographically close, part of a bounded historic landscape shaped by a single, relatively short-term event: the ‘battle of Verdun’ of 1916. At the same time, because of the historical and symbolic importance of the battle, the time-space of the battlefield far exceeds the physically and chronologically localised nature of the original event. At different points in time since the end of the battle, a variety of actors, ranging from local to national and global, have been claiming it as their own, so that both its physical form and its symbolic meaning are multiple, layered and unstable.



Ossuary at Douaumont

Victory Monument at Verdun

Ruins at Douaumont

Film and Video

The Verdun battlefield: New debates on the heritage of destruction for 2014


The CRIC Research Project has studied the post-war reconstruction of the World War I battlefield of Verdun and in this film researcher Dr Paola Filippucci discusses some of the findings of the project. As she explains, partly because of the extent of destruction the battlefield was declared off-limits for ordinary settlement and turned into a forest, containing only burials, memorial monuments and vestiges of the battlefield.

The post-war history of the battlefield landscape shows that since its reconstruction in the 1920s, the forest has matured and developed significant biodiversity, with many rare plant and animal species thriving in some of the man-made wartime vestiges (shell-holes, forts and dugouts). This creates today a new type of heritage value on the battlefield, and as we move towards the centenary of the Great War in 2014, it gives rise to new debates about how to protect and valorise this landscape so as to harmonise historical and natural heritage. This case study shows that reconstruction after conflict is a very long-term process that leaves a material legacy that continues to change and to interrogate later generations after the disappearance of direct survivors.

Further videos introducing case studies from the CRIC project can be found on the CRIC Youtube channel.


The research carried out by the Spanish work package has resulted in several books and journal articles. A selection of these publications is given below:


  • Amat, J.P. 2011 ‘Grande Guerre et paysages du sacré : reconstruction et sacralisation du champ de bataille de Verdun’. Actes du colloque international "Sacrée nature, paysages du sacré !", université d'Orléans, 22,23 et 24 janvier 2009, Presses Universitaires de Paris-Sorbonne.
  • Filippucci, P. 2010. ‘Archaeology and the anthropology of memory: takes on the recent past’. In Garrow, D. and Yarrow, T.(eds) Archaeology and Anthropology: understanding similarities, exploring differences. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
  • Filippucci, P. 2010 ‘Archaeology and memory on the Western Front’. In Boric, D. (ed.) Archaeology and Memory Oxford: Oxbow Books.
  • Savouret, E., Amat J-P., Cantat, O. and Filippucci, P. 2011 ‘Au temps météorologique de la Grande Guerre. Approche séquentielle des périodes contraignantes dans les tranchées sur le front de la Marne et de la Meuse, 1914-18’, Climatologie 8, 59-78.


Jean-Paul Amat
Institut de Géographie, Université Paris Sorbonne - Paris IV Homepage

Paola Filippucci
Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge Homepage