Introduction

This project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Gerry Holdsworth Special Forces Trust, aims to re-evaluate and recast the history of resistance to hegemonic and occupying empires in Europe between 1936 and 1948, which has been occluded by dominant narratives of national resistance, the Cold War and the Holocaust. It will explore the trajectories of transnational resisters – defined as active behind enemy lines outside their country of origin – encounters and exchanges between them, the forging of their identities in different regional contexts and the post-war transformation of their lives and memories. The Network’s findings will be communicated by a collaborative volume and articles, and engagement with broadcasters and museums.

Funders

‘The Leverhulme Trust was established by the Will of William Hesketh Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers. Since 1925 we have provided grants and scholarships for research and education; today, we are one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing approximately £80m a year. We award funding across academic disciplines, supporting talented individuals in the arts, humanities, sciences and social sciences to realise their personal vision in research and professional training. As well as substantial grants for research, we offer fellowships for researchers at every stage of their career, grants for international collaboration and travel, and support for the fine and performing arts. A distinctive feature of our approach is that the great majority of the awards we make are in the responsive mode – with the choice of topic and the design of the research left with applicants. Our primary aim is to fund original research that advances knowledge of our world and ourselves. We do not set strategic priorities for our grant-making; in making funding decisions our sole concern is for the quality, significance, and originality of the proposed research. As far as possible, we take a non-utilitarian and academy-focused approach to funding.’

‘The Gerry Holdsworth Special Forces Trust is a charitable endeavour set up in 1989 to help preserve and promote the heritage of the wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE) and related special forces. Named after Commander Gerry Holdsworth, a leading member of SOE throughout the Second World War, the Trust was established by a grant made by Sir Paul Getty and with the assistance of Viscount Slim, Sir Brooks Richards and Lady Getty (Victoria Holdsworth). The current chairman of Trustees is General Sir Michael Rose. Each year, the Trust seeks to make available a small number of modest grants to researchers and organisations engaged in serious research and commemorative projects relating to the history of SOE and special forces.’

Context and aim

The story of transnational resistance has been written over by three dominant narratives of the postwar era: first, the narratives of national liberation elaborated in countries that emerged from wartime defeat, occupation and liberation by foreign powers; second, Cold War narratives that stifled narratives of anti-fascist struggle in the West and non-communist or anti-communist struggle in the East; and third, by the narrative of the Holocaust which highlighted Jews as victims rather than as resisters. The International Network will multiply perspectives from scholarly vantage-points in different parts of Europe to explore the emergence, trajectories and afterlives of transnational resistance in very different theatres, from the Pyrenean frontier between Spain and France to the borderlands of Russia and from the flatlands of the Netherlands to the mountains of Yugoslavia and Greece. Political, historical, cultural, religious, economic and ethnic contexts were very distinct in these theatres and inflected the engagement of resisters in activism, their encounters and exchanges, and their afterlives and memories in very different ways. The Network will bring together leading historians of the Second World War who are working in specialist research institutes and on parallel projects across Europe in order to confront concepts, methods and evidence in this field. This will produce a new and exciting interpretation of the ‘long’ Second World War between the Spanish Civil War and the onset of the Cold War and make a significant contribution to the practice of transnational history.

Significance of the International Network

The Network will undertake a major and sustained project on this subject for the first time since the 1960s, when collaborative study broke up in Cold War acrimony, and since the 1980s, when the dominant narrative of the Holocaust marginalised the history of Jewish resistance. Some studies have brought together historians to reflect on resistance across Europe, but not yet in any sustained way looking at the whole of Europe and deploying the methodology of transnational history. The Network will tackle the question of transnational resistance between East and West, North and South and will also contribute a major empirical case study that will draw on the approaches of transnational history but also critique them and define their limits. The outputs of the project will be a major collective volume and a number of articles on questions that lend themselves to focussed treatment, including one on the contribution of the project to transnational historical approaches. These will be collectively written as a result of the convergence of scholarly thinking made possible by a sustained period of collaboration. Many questions, it is hoped, will be flagged up rather than closed down, opening the way to further research in the field by younger scholars. Given the significance of such a project from the viewpoint of narratives of the history of Europe in the twentieth century, contacts with broadcasters and museums, in particular the new House of Europe, will be built on in order to engage with wider publics.

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