HomeThe Great War of “ordinary” people. Correspondences, narratives, testimonies

The Great War of “ordinary” people. Correspondences, narratives, testimonies

La Grande Guerre des gens « ordinaires ». Correspondances, récits, témoignages

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Published on Tuesday, November 28, 2017 by Céline Guilleux


The subject of this symposium is wartime journals, private diaries, letter correspondences, wills etc., left by ordinary women, men and children seized in the upheaval of the war, but also the memories and stories left, beyond 1918, by or on them, as a testament a posteriori of life after war, which describe the daily life, the process of mourning, the reconstruction. It will also examine the traces left by these archives in the collective narrative.


Paul-Valery University Montpellier, June 15-16, 2018

Site Saint-Charles, salle des colloques 2 


The Centenary of the Great War has generated a vast collection of archives. The Europeana platform 14-18 presently includes close to a million digitized resources; expected to last a few weeks, the Great collection was such a success that it continues to this day, four years after its launch in November of 2013. More specialized initiatives have gathered the correspondences of families with low levels of literacy (“Corpus 14” project, “Centenary Mission” label), as well as the wartime testaments of Parisian WWI soldiers. In 2018, the digital Revolution will make a wealth of archives, inaccessible thus far, available to researchers and to the general public (Cendari project, Feldpost project).

We can subsequently hypothesize that the Centenary marks a turning point that is valued for more than just the symbolic date. The newly-discovered, unpublished archives go, henceforth, beyond personal, family heritages: they are becoming a common good (Roynette, Siouffi, Steuckardt, 2017) and the public exposure of these archives takes on a characteristic of singular originality when they come from these “ordinary people”, who were brought into focus in the sixties by the popularity of life narratives in anthropological and sociological (Bourdieu, 1993), linguistic, or literary research. Sometimes named “the anonymous”, “the without rank” (Descamps, 2005) – even the “without”, full stop (Guilhamou, 1998) – these “ordinary people” are first categorized by what they are not: the elite; for lack of being defined, they have benefited from the attention of historians (for example, Caffarena, 2005; Cazals, 2003), of sociolinguists and discourse analysts (Branca-Rosoff, 1994; Martineau, 2012; Rutten & Van der Wal, 2014; Steuckardt, 2015), as well as of writers who, like Pierre Michon with his Miniscule Lives, Annie Ernaux or even Jean Echenoz – regarding the only contemporary French literature –, have made a dent in, after Barbusse, Celine or Giono, the literary representation.

What do we then learn from the writings, now easily accessible, of ordinary people of the Great War? What are their special features, in their appropriation of language and discursive genres, but also in the outlook they bring to the event? In what way do they differ from those of the well-read elite (Allorant & Resal, 2014)? In what way do they resemble them (Vidal-Naquet, 2014)? Do they modify our current perception of the event? How do they contribute to the construction, for new generations, of the memory of the Great War? And to what extent do they sketch another history of the French language?

The writings of “everyday life” (de Certeau, 1980), of “for privacy” (Ruggiu, 2014), of intimacy, of subjectivity, of emotions, linguistic constructions and reconstructions of memories, of memory, of histories and of History: so many paths to undertake these texts, to examine this quality of “ordinary”, whose quotation marks highlight undoubtedly its approximation. “The world of everyday life presents itself [...] both as a centred order (“normal”), where the expected dominates, and as a marginal system, where there is always room for the unexpected: tradition and innovation are in permanent confrontation. From this point of view, the everyday is not the exact same thing as the ordinary, namely a systematic ensemble of practices subjected to fixed regularities: the everyday is in fact permanently exposed to the risk of irregularity which seamlessly turns it into the extraordinary” (Macherey, 2005): to what extent does the everyday practice of writing during the first world war allow us to see the power of the irregularity or its transformation into the extraordinary?

Writings of the past, these archives form a snapshot, a source of information for the didactics of writing and the history of its teaching (Bishop 2006; Chervel 1992, 2006; David, 2011; Garcia-Debanc, 2016; Plane, 2016; Doquet 2012): what are their linguistic and scriptural characteristics? What do they say about the teaching of writing and particular uses of writing in times of war (Fraenkel & Mbodj, 2010)?

These writings of the Great War summarize the Great War by way, not of the extraordinary history of heroes, but of the ordinary history of men and women. Next to historical documents and historical fiction studied in schools, in French as well as in history (Masseron 1991; Jaubert, Lalague-Dula, Louichon, 2014), how are and how can these archive writings be exploited, in primary school, in secondary school or in college? How can the study of these epistolary, diaristic, and autobiographical writings enrich the viewpoint of students on questions of gender, of enunciation, of textual structuration, of lexicon, or of writing supports? How do these writings of ordinary people of the Great War provoke a particular understanding of writing, of language and of the past in students? According to which interdisciplinarities and for which purposes?

The subject of this symposium is wartime journals, private diaries, letter correspondences, wills etc., left by ordinary women, men and children seized in the upheaval of the war, but also the memories and stories left, beyond 1918, by or on them, as a testament a posteriori of life after war, which describe the daily life, the process of mourning, the reconstruction. It will also examine the traces left by these archives in the collective narrative.

Based on linguistic material, this symposium is intended for all text analysts – linguists, literati, historians –as well as for archive and digital humanities specialists, essential representatives for the contemporary transmission of these documents, and jointly, for didacticians, who lean on these new vectors of transmission to continue the memory of the Great War.

Submission guidelines

The symposium languages are French and English.

A selection of papers will be the subject of a publication.


  • Submission of abstracts: starting from November 1, 2017
  • Deadline for the receiving of abstracts: January 15, 2018

  • Notification of acceptance: March 1, 2018
  • Publication of program: March 30, 2018

The summaries, of around 500 words, bibliography included, should specify the type of resources used as well as their accessibility. The summaries should be sent to the following address: colloque3go@univ-montp3.fr

Guest speakers (confirmed)

Pierre Allorant (Université d’Orléans) ; Rémy Cazals (Université de Toulouse) ; France Martineau (Université d’Ottawa) ; Odile Roynette (Université de Franche-Comté)

Organizing committee

  • Agnès Steuckardt, Université Montpellier 3
  • Corinne Gomila, Université de Montpellier
  • Chantal Wionet, Université d’Avignon

Scientific committee (confirmed)

  • Pierre Allorant, Université d’Orléans ;
  • Nathalie Auger, Université Montpellier 3 ;
  • Hélène Blondeau, University of Florida ;
  • Marie-France Bishop, Université de Cergy-Pontoise ;
  • Sonia Branca-Rosoff, Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle ;
  • Fabio Caffarena, University of Genoa ;
  • Rémy Cazals, Université de Toulouse ;
  • Florence Clavaud, École nationale des Chartes ;
  • Jacques David, Université de Cergy-Pontoise ;
  • Claire Doquet, Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle ;
  • Gerhard Ernst, University of Regensburg ;
  • Jacques Guilhaumou, CNRS ;
  • Claudine Garcia-Debanc, Université de Toulouse ;
  • Sybille Grosse, University of Heidelberg ;
  • France Martineau, University of Ottawa ;
  • Caroline Masseron, Université de Lorraine ;
  • Christine Nougaret, École nationale des Chartes ;
  • Sylvie Plane, Université Paris Sorbonne ;
  • Frédéric Rousseau, Université Montpellier 3 ;
  • Odile Roynette, Université de Franche-Comté ;
  • Gilles Siouffi, Université Paris Sorbonne ;
  • Clémentine Vidal-Naquet, Université de Picardie


ALLORANT, Pierre, RESAL, Jacques (2014). Femmes sur le pied de guerre. Villeneuve d’Ascq : Presses du Septentrion.

BRANCA-ROSOFF, Sonia, SCHNEIDER, Nathalie (1994). L’écriture des citoyens. Une analyse linguistique des peu-lettrés pendant la période révolutionnaire. Paris : Klincksieck. http://syled.univ-paris3.fr/individus/sonia-branca/articles/51bch5unites93.pdf

BRANCA-ROSOFF, Sonia (1990). « Conventions d'écriture dans la correspondance des soldats », Mots, Paroles de la grande guerre, n° 24, 21-37.

BISHOP, Marie-France (2006).  « Les écritures de soi à l’école primaire : bref historique d’un genre scolaire », Repères, n°31, 21-40.

CAFFARENA, Fabio (2005). Lettere della Grande Guerra. Scritture del quotidiano, monumenti della memoria, fonti per la storia. Il caso italiano. Milano : Unicopli.

CAZALS, Rémy (2003). Préface et notes, avec Nicolas Offenstadt, « Si je reviens comme je l'espère » : Lettres du front et de l'arrière, 1914-1918, Paris : Grasset.

CAZALS, Rémy (2013). 500 témoins de la Grande Guerre, Moyenmoutier : Éditions pyrénéennes / Edhisto.

CERTEAU, Michel de (1990). L’invention du quotidien. Paris : Gallimard.

CHERVEL, André (1992). « Devoirs et travaux écrits des élèves dans l’enseignement secondaire du XIXe siècle. Une source non exploitée : les enquêtes ministérielles et rectorales », Histoire de l’éducation, vol. 54, 13-38.

CHERVEL, André (2006). « La composition française : du discours français à la rédaction d’école primaire», A. Chervel, A, Histoire de l’enseignement du français du XVIIe au XXsiècle. Paris : Retz, 629-725.

DAVID, Jacques (2011). « Quels apports linguistiques pour l’enseignement-apprentissage de la litéracie ? », J.‑L. Chiss, H. Merlin-Kajman & C. Puech (dir.), Le français, discipline d’enseignement : histoire, champ et terrain, Paris : Riveneuve éditions, 149-168.

DESCAMPS, Florence (2005). La lente réintégration de la source orale en histoire In : L’historien, l’archiviste et le magnétophone : De la constitution de la source orale à son exploitation. Paris : Institut de la gestion publique et du développement économique, 93-130.

DOQUET, Claire (2013). « Ordre scriptural et boucles (méta)énonciatives : remords, reprises, retours dans l’écriture », S. Branca, C. Doquet, J. Lefebvre, E. Opperman, F. Sitri (éds), L’Hétérogène à l’œuvre. Mélanges offerts à Jacqueline Authier-Revuz. Limoges, Lambert-Lucas, 80-93.

ECHENOZ, Jean (2012). 14. Paris : Minuit.

ERNAUX, Annie (2011), Écrire la vie. Paris : Gallimard, collection « Quarto ».

FRAENKEL, Béatrice, MBODJ-POUYE, Aïssatou (2010). « Les New Literacy studies, jalons historiques et perspectives actuelles », Langage et société, 133, 7-24.

GARCIA-DEBANC, Claudine (2016). « Les recherches en didactique du français langue première sur l’enseignement de la production écrite de 1974 à 2014 dans les revues Pratiques et Repères : consensus, controverses et points aveugles », Pratiques, n° 169-170.

GUILHAUMOU, Jacques (1998). La parole des sans. Paris : ENS éditions.

JAUBERT, Martine, LALAGÜE-DULAC, LOUICHON Brigitte (dir.) (2013). « Fictions historiques en classe de français », Repères, n° 48.

MACHEREY, Pierre (2005). « Le quotidien, objet philosophique ? », Articulo. Journal of Urban Research, 1.

MASSERON, Caroline (dir.) (1991). « Textes et Histoire ». Pratiques, n° 69.

MARTINEAU, France (2012). « Les voix silencieuses de la sociolinguistique historique », Cahiers de linguistique. Construction des connaissances sociolinguistiques. Variation et contexte social, vol. 38, no 1, 111-135.

MICHON, Pierre (1984). Vies minuscules, Paris : Gallimard.

PLANE, Sylvie « Dynamique de l’écriture et processus de resémantisation », Pratiques [En ligne], 173-174 | 2017, URL : http://pratiques.revues.org/3307.

PLANE, Sylvie (2016). « Enseigner l’écriture, comprendre ses fonctionnements et ses évolutions ». In S. Plane, C. Bazerman, C. Donahue, F. Rondelli, A. Applebee, C. Boré, P. Carlino, M. Marquillo Llarruy, P. Roger & D. Russell (Eds)  Recherches en écriture : regards pluriels, Nancy : Université de Lorraine, 11-20.

ROYNETTE, Odile, SIOUFFI, Gilles, STEUCKARDT, Agnès (dir.) (2017). La langue sous le feu. Mots, textes, discours de la Grande Guerre, Rennes : Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

STEUCKARDT, Agnès (dir.) (2015). Entre village et tranchées. L’écriture des poilus ordinaires. Uzès : Inclinaison.

RUGGIU, François-Joseph (dir.) (2014). Les écrits du for privé en France de la fin du Moyen Âge à 1914, Paris : CTHS, 2014.

RUTTEN, Gijsbert, Van der WAL Marijke (2014). Letters as Loot. A sociolinguistic approach to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dutch. Amsterdam / Philadelphia : Benjamins.

VIDAL-NAQUET, Clémentine (2014). Correspondances conjugales 1914-1918. Paris : Robert Laffont.

VIDAL-NAQUET, Clémentine (2014). Couples dans la Grande Guerre. Le tragique et l'ordinaire du lien conjugal. Paris : Belles Lettres.

Resources available online (accessed september 1, 2017)

Bardet, Jean-Pierre, Ruggiu, François-Joseph (2009). Les écrits du for privé de la fin du Moyen Âge à 1914. http://ecritsduforprive.huma-num.fr/

Edmond, Jennifer (2015). Cendarihttp://www.cendari.eu/

Martineau, France (1995). Corpus du français familier ancien. http://polyphonies.uottawa.ca/fr/corpus/i-corpus-de-francais-familier-ancien/

Europeana Collections 14-18 (2011). http://www.europeana.eu/portal/fr/collections/world-war-I

First Person Writings in European Context (2008). http://firstpersonwritings.huma-num.fr/

Nougaret, Christine, Clavaud, Florence (2017). Testaments de guerre des Poilus parisiens : 1914-1918http://elec.enc.sorbonne.fr/testaments-de-poilus/

Rutten, Gijsbert, Van der Wal, Marieke (2013).  Brieven as Builthttp://brievenalsbuit.inl.nl/

Schwender, Clemens (2008). Feldpost-Archivhttp://www.feldpost-archiv.de/

Steuckardt, Agnès, Luxardo, Giancarlo (2014). Corpus 14http://corpus14.ortolang.fr/ ;  https://www.univ-montp3.fr/corpus14/


  • Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier. Site Saint-Charles, salle des colloques 2
    Montpellier, France (34)


  • Monday, January 15, 2018


  • Grande Guerre, correspondance, récit, témoignage, gens


  • Corinne Gomila
    courriel : colloque3go [at] univ-montp3 [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Corinne Gomila
    courriel : colloque3go [at] univ-montp3 [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« The Great War of “ordinary” people. Correspondences, narratives, testimonies », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, November 28, 2017, http://calenda.org/423348