Professor Robert Gildea

Featured Publication

Fighters in the Shadows. A new history of the French Resistance (Faber & Faber 2015)

Fighters in the Shadows

The story of the French Resistance is central to French identity, but it is a story built on myths. Not simply an effort to free the country from German occupation, it was part of a Europe-wide anti-fascist struggle, which included Spanish republicans, Italian and German anti-Nazis, communists, Jewish resisters and Christian rescuers. Robert Gildea returns to the testimonies of those involved, asking who they were, and what compelled them to take the terrible risks they did, bringing to the fore stories of the women resisters, whom history has neglected.  Fighters in the Shadows is a vivid, gripping and entirely new account of one of the most compelling narratives of the Second World War.

Robert Gildea (ed) Europe’s 1968. Voices of Revolt (OUP, 2013)

Europe's 1968

By the late 1960s, in a Europe divided by the Cold War and challenged by global revolution in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, thousands of young people threw themselves into activism to change both the world and themselves. This new and exciting study of "Europe's 1968" is based on the rich oral histories of nearly 500 former activists collected by an international team of historians across fourteen countries. Activists' own voices reflect on how they were drawn into activism, how they worked and struggled together, how they combined the political and the personal in their lives, and the pride or regret with which they look back on those momentous years. Themes explored include generational revolt and activists' relationship with their families, the meanings of revolution, transnational encounters and spaces of revolt, faith and radicalism, dropping out, gender and sexuality, and revolutionary violence. Focussing on the way in which the activists themselves made sense of their revolt,  Europe's 1968makes a major contribution to both oral history and memory studies. This ambitious study ranges widely across Europe from Franco's Spain to the Soviet Union, and from the two Germanys to Greece, and throws new light on moments and movements which both united and divided the activists of Europe's 1968.


  • Second World War resistance in a transnational perspective
  • History of memory and oral history
  • The legacy of French and British empires since 1940

I have been studying modern French history for forty years. My interests are in both la  France profonde and revolutionary France, as illustrated by Education in Provincial France  (1982) and Children of the Revolution. The French, 1799-1914  (2008). Similarly, my work on France under the German occupation involved both a provincial, anthropological study of communities in Marianne in chains (2002) and a study of individual and networked resistance in Fighters in the Shadows  (2015).

My work on the education in nineteenth-France alerted me to ways in which French politics and culture has been shaped by conflicts and loyalties that can be traced back to the French Revolution, if not to the Wars of Religion. I wrote The Past in French History (1994) to explore the construction of collective memories of wars and revolutions, often through commemoration, and their interplay with political cultures since the Revolution. Individual memory and oral history I approached later, seeking to understand how ordinary people coped with life under the German occupation. Oral history then became the methodology of the five-year international project I ran on 1968, involving fifteen historians working on activists from Spain to the USSR, published as Europe’s 1968. Voices of Revolt (2013).

In recent years I have become much more sceptical about writing history in a national framework, and have experimented with transnational and global approaches. Fighters in the Shadows  underlines the importance of resisters of foreign origin in the French Resistance and gave rise to another international collaborative project on ‘Transnational Approach to Resistance in Europe, 1936-48’, running from 2015 to 2018. My work on the French Resistance also brought home the importance of France’s colonial empire in its 1944 liberation and the paradox of its liberators returning to refound the empire in Vietnam and Algeria, using the same brutal methods against colonial rebels that the Third Reich used against the Resistance. The legacy of the empire in French metropolitan politics was the subject of my Wiles lectures in Belfast in 2013 and introduced me to global history. Writing these up, I was soon persuaded that this subject had to be studied comparatively with the British empire and its legacy, for a book entitled Empires of the mind.  Ironically, every shocking subsequent event from the Charlie Hebdo killings to the Brexit vote seems to confirm the thesis I am developing.

  • Fighters Across Frontiers Transnational Resistance in Europe, 1936-48

  • Empires of the Mind

  • Laïcité, Republic and Nation in Post-Colonial France

  • Resist or collaborate?

  • ‘1968’

  • ‘Les Inconnus de la Resistance: letters to L’Humanité, 1984’

  • ‘The Global 1968 and international communism’

  • Résistances européennes: tableau politique et militaire

  • Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance

  • The Transnational in the Local: The Larzac Plateau as a Site of Transnational Activism since 1970

  • More

Current DPhil Students

  • Hannah Elsisi
  • Matthew Chan
  • Heather Mann
  • Avner Ofrath
  • Alexandra Paulin-Booth
  • Helen Sharkey
  • David Foulk

I would be willing to hear from potential DPhil students regarding Nineteenth and Twentieth Century French history, or a transnational or global dimension including this and Masters students regarding Modern French and European history post 1800   

I currently teach:

FHS Masters Teaching

The Global Twentieth Century, 1930-2003

MA and MPhil in British and European History : Theories and Methods, Writing History, Historical Concepts, Methods  and Controversies

France from the Popular Front to the Liberation, 1936-1944

In the Media

Book at Lunchtime: Empires of the Mind

In Our Time: The Siege of Paris

BBC Radio 4: The French Culture War

Start the Week, 16 November 2015

recorded on the day of the Paris attacks of 13 November 2015

Making History 14 July 2015.

Wiles lectures, Belfast, 2013: Remembering and Repetition in France: Defeat, Colonialism and Resistance since 1940 (lecture 1) (lecture 2) (lecture 3) (lecture 4)

From  ‘Philippe Pétain’ documentary by Paule Muxel and Bertrand de Solliers, 2009


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