New Books in French Studies Podcast

Defending National Treasures: French Art and Heritage under Vichy - Elizabeth Karlsgodt

April 17, 2014

In this month's New Books in French Studies podcast, Dr. Roxanne Panchasi speaks to Elizabeth Karlsgodt, author of Defending National Treasures: French Art and Heritage under Vichy. Read Dr. Panchasi's summary below, and check out the podcast on the NBFS website.

  • I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this may be the first and last NBFS interview in which George Clooney’s name comes up more than once. My guest, Elizabeth Karlsgodt, and I ended up talking about Mr. Clooney’s latest film, The Monuments Men, at the end of our discussion of her book, Defending National Treasures: French Art and Heritage under Vichy (Stanford University Press, 2011). Focused on art, museums, and monuments, Karlsgodt’s book examines the war as an important moment for cultural reform in France, including the implementation of new “preservationist” policies with the intention of defining and protecting France’s patrimoine national, or national treasures and cultural heritage (as Vichy saw these). The study looks at the evacuation of French public collections, the administrative reorganization of the nation’s artistic and historical sites, and the painful history of Jewish-owned art collections and works belonging to those who had fled France and were, in some cases, victims of the Holocaust. In the second half of the book, Karlsgodt focuses on the complex field of conflict and negotiation (including accommodation) between the French and German governments.

    Defending National Treasures is a book with implications for how we think about continuity and change from the interwar through the Vichy years and into the postwar period. It uses the realm of art to further complicate our understanding of collaboration and resistance and to illuminate the role of the state and its bureaucracies in shaping culture. Beyond these already worthy accomplishments, Karlsgodt’s work has made her an expert reviewer of the Clooney film noted above. She has appeared in Slate and US News & World Report, as well as the National Geographic documentary Hunting Hitler’s Stolen Treasures: The Monuments Men (which aired in January 2014). The book is thus a wonderful example of how the best scholarship can also be engaged with readers (and viewers) beyond a traditional audience of scholars and students.

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