Alsace after 1648: Dissension and Debate

AHA Session 213
Central European History Society 3
Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Columbia Hall 12 (Washington Hilton)
Philip M. Soergel, University of Maryland at College Park
Rebecca McCoy, Lebanon Valley College

Session Abstract

The Nobel Peace Prize did not go to an individual in 2012. It went to the European Union, an organization designed to integrate Europe and especially France and Germany politically and economically in order to prevent a repeat of the terrible wars of the first half of the twentieth century. These wars, occurring almost every generation since the Thirty Years War, usually included the territory of Alsace as a target, a battlefield, or both.

Conflicts over Alsace in the centuries following France’s first annexation in 1648 were not limited to armies. Diplomats and government ministers, too, debated and disagreed over what Alsace should become. Peter Wallace describes the uncertain political situation in Alsace given France’s initially shaky control. Local powers wondered what France’s arrival meant for them and if, given their continued relationship with the Holy Roman Empire, it meant anything at all. Stephen Lazer’s paper describes how questions remained about where Alsace actually “was.” even though France had secured its hold over Alsace by the second of the eighteenth century France and the Duchy of Pfalz-Zweibrücken wrangled in Versailles and local courts over where Alsace’s borders lay. Both attempted to secure sovereignty through legal justifications and historical arguments. Lazer highlights the importance of legitimacy to political leaders and local inhabitants in establishing and maintaining authority. Anthony Steinhoff describes a different Alsace, one going from France to Germany. Alsace would now function as a project for the new German empire, one in which the debate about what Alsace was and what it should be remained centered on Alsace but would now occur within a new nation state’s borders.

Although this session focuses on the “question” of Alsace from 1648 to circa 1900, it raises issues about the multifaceted nature of serious political and jurisdictional conflicts. Debates that occurred within and between competing institutions often paralleled other, often violent conflicts. This session should prove of interest especially to French and German historians, but also to scholars interested in how international and state building policies developed in one region over a course of almost two and a half centuries.

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