Study Leader Kim Munholland is Professor Emeritus from the University of Minnesota. A specialist on modern France, Dr. Munholland has published several books on French history, with an emphasis upon French-American relations in the twentieth century. Munholland has served as Study Leader on our France Through the Ages tour. Here, Journeys Education Manager Sadie McVicker sits down with him for some insight on his long career in historic preservation.
Sadie McVicker: You have extensively researched and written on the subject of French-American relations in the twentieth century. Which aspect or historical turning point of French-American relations do you find most fascinating and why?
Kim Munholland: There are several moments in French-American relations that have caught my attention. Recently I have been working on the past two hundred years of this relationship, beginning with the French assistance during the American War for Independence, producing a “Lafayette syndrome” in which Americans often define a special relationship that has existed since Lafayette fought beside George Washington—and came to regard our first president as a father figure. Yet this positive image has often been challenged when American and French interests have diverged or been marked by tension. On the positive side, there is an American fascination with French culture from the country’s intellectual life to its enjoyment of everyday pleasures. This is seen in the lives of American exiles, who have sought a second home in France, particularly Paris. At the same time there have been official, more political differences between the two countries that too often behave as “hostile allies.” In this latter area there are several moments that can be seen as turning points over more than two centuries, but the most important was the relationship that developed after the French defeat of 1940 and wartime relations, particularly differences between Charles de Gaulle and Franklin Roosevelt. This conflict was a central concern of my book, Rock of Contention: Free French and Americans at War in New Caledonia, 1940-1945. These wartime differences established a pattern that has marked French-American disagreements and misunderstandings since then.
SM: Another of your areas of expertise is how the wine industry was impacted by the Vichy regime. Can you please give a brief overview of how much the Vichy regime did effect the evolution of the French wine industry?
KM: Vichy’s policy of collaboration with Germany during WWII created serious problems for the French wine industry when the Germans insisted that a large amount of the great French wines, particularly Champagne, Bordeaux and Burgundy, be reserved for the German market, including the German armed forces. The French realized that they would have to sell their wines to the Germans, but to protect their most valuable wines French winemakers began hiding some of their best vintages so that they would have a supply to rebuild their trade after the war. German taste for French wines also meant that the great wine cellars, such as at the Tour d’Argent in Paris, were in danger of depletion. Demands of high-ranking German officials (Hitler was a teetotaler) such as Herman Goering, could have had disastrous consequences for these great cellars. Again, a process of hiding occurred in self-defense. Another impact was that German demands for copper for their war industries meant that French vintners lacked copper sulfate, which was used to protect the vines from mildew and other diseases. This meant a drop in wine production, making it even more difficult to meet German demands. Finally, to increase agricultural production, Vichy issued regulations requiring larger vineyards to tear up ten percent of their land planted in grapes in order to increase supplies of vegetables and fruits. Since the war, French wine industry has recovered, and we will be traveling through some of the great, if less well-known, wine regions from Languedoc to the Loire valley.
SM: The France through the Ages itinerary is comprised of one beautiful and historically significant site after another; which site visits are you most looking forward to visiting with Smithsonian travelers and why?
KM: There are many wonderful places to see on this trip, beginning in Carcassonne, but the one that I am looking forward to with great anticipation is Rocamadour. The site is absolutely sensational and made a lasting impression the first time that I visited it many years ago as a graduate student in French history. At that time we could visit the caves at Lascaux, to be closed shortly thereafter. Thus, it will be a visit filled with nostalgia for me. It also will enable me to rediscover an earlier interest in Medieval France since Rocamadour was a pilgrimage site. Equally interesting is the town of Albi. The Cathedral of Saint Cecile is one of the most interesting in all of France, very hard to categorize and should surprise everyone who has not seen it before. Albi has lent its name to one of the most bloody episodes of the Middle Ages, the Albigensian Crusade against the heretical Cathar sect that had its roots in the region and was supported by the powerful counts of Toulouse.
SM: For a city so renowned for its scientific and engineering industries (aerospace and high tech), Toulouse has a rich literary and artistic history as well, personified by Antoine St. Exupéry and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. What led Toulouse to excel in these areas?
KM: The emergence of Toulouse as a center for the aeronautic and high tech industries has its origins in France’s impressive economic recovery after World War II. Successive French governments were determined to modernize France, particularly in the area of aircraft production. Key to this program was government support and encouragement to the aeronautical engineer and entrepreneur, Marcel Dassault, whose company began to produce some of the most advanced fighter aircraft in the world. This program successfully sought to reverse an image of France as the technological inferior of Germany, often cited as a cause for the country’s military defeat in 1940. The climate of Toulouse is well suited, perhaps similar to Los Angeles, to the development and testing of aircraft prototypes. The result was a spectacular growth of French aircraft development and production, leading to the location of the main assembly point for the Airbus. An advanced electronics sector developed alongside the aerospace industry of Toulouse. But it has not been all technology and modernity that gives Toulouse its claim to fame. Toulouse has long had a strong cultural tradition dating back to the time of the troubadours and the days of Raymond of Toulouse, who encouraged the arts in his capital city. In addition to its literary and artistic richness, Toulouse is home to a major symphony orchestra.
SM: You spent several years living in various areas of France. What aspects of la vie en France do you miss the most?