Challenging the German Empire: Strategic nationalism in Alsace-Lorraine in the First World War

Volker Prott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article introduces the concept of ‘strategic nationalism’ to explain the shift of national allegiance of most Alsatians and Lorrainers from Germany to France during the First World War. Combining the historiographical concept of ‘national indifference’ with rational-choice theories of nationalism, the article examines why a growing number of local citizens came to defy the authorities' relentless demand of national loyalty. Contrary to previous studies that emphasize the dictatorial character of the regime and the passivity of local citizens, the article argues that national attitudes were shaped by strategic interests and highly
responsive to shifts in state policy, regional circumstances and the course of the war. From mid-1918, it was less escalating state repression or dormant Francophile sympathies, but half-hearted liberalization of policy, the authorities'
unfaltering insistence on national loyalty and imminent military and economic collapse that prompted people to see France as an attractive alternative to German rule.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1009-1025
Number of pages17
JournalNations and Nationalism
Issue number4
Early online date14 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - 11 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Authors. Nations and Nationalism published by Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism and John Wiley & Sons Ltd

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


  • Alsace-Lorraine
  • First World War
  • everyday nationalism
  • local nationalism
  • nationalism from below
  • rational choice
  • theories of nationalism


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