Serving the nation, defending its interests. French students and military service reforms (1889-1913)

Associations, late 19th-early 20th century
By Antonin Dubois

Given the lack of sources that would allow us to determine the specific social profiles of French students before the First World War, to understand how they became a social group, we must trace the process whereby they organised collectively and were recognised as such by the public authorities. This is the approach in this paper, where we show what the three conscription laws of 1889, 1905 and 1913 reveal about the emergence and organisation of students as a social group in France, and the resulting mobilisations in favour of (or in reaction to) special provisions for students. On the one hand, the student movements around military service were exceptional moments of “crystallisation” that reveal the balance of power between students and the government, and thus shed light on students’ relationship to the state and to the nation. On the other hand, they reflect the main changes in the forms of collective mobilisation of students during this period.

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