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France is an independent nation in Western Europe and the center of a large overseas administration. It is the third-largest European nation (after Russia and Ukraine).

In ancient times France was part of the Celtic territory known as Gaul or Gallia. Its present name is derived from the Latin Francia, meaning "country of the Franks," a Germanic people who conquered the area during the 5th century, at the time of the fall of the Western Roman Empire. It became a separate country in the 9th century.

Since the 17th century, France has played a major role in European and world events. In the 20th century, it has experienced numerous crises, including the devastation of two world wars, political and social upheavals, and the loss of a large empire in Indochina, Algeria, and West and Equatorial Africa. It has, however, survived and emerged from the ruins of World War II to become an important world supplier of agricultural and industrial products and a major partner in the EUROPEAN COMMUNITY (EC, or Common Market).

Today, the term metropolitan France refers to the mainland departments and CORSICA, a large island located in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy that has been a part of France since 1768. France has six overseas departments: FRENCH GUIANA in South America; GUADELOUPE and MARTINIQUE in the West Indies; MAYOTTE, an island formerly part of the Comoros, located in the Indian Ocean; REUNION, an island in the Indian Ocean; and SAINT PIERRE AND MIQUELON, islands off the east coast of Canada. In addition, France has numerous small possessions called overseas territories. These include a group of widely scattered islands in the South Pacific, which are administered from Tahiti and are known collectively as FRENCH POLYNESIA; FRENCH SOUTHERN AND ANTARCTIC TERRITORIES; NEW CALEDONIA and WALLIS AND FUTUNA ISLANDS; and many small islands in the southern oceans, including the Kerguelen and Crozet archipelagos and the islands of St. Paul and Amsterdam (Indian Ocean). The overseas departments and territories are represented in the French National Assembly.

Daniel Noin; Reviewed by Anne Depigny and Agnes Jolivet.
Source: The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Release #6, ©1993

  • GENERAL WORKS: Ardagh, John, France in the 1980s (1983) and A Cultural Atlas of France (1991); Bernstein, Richard, Fragile Glory: A Portrait of France and the French (1990); Braudel, Fernand, The Identity of France, vol. 1, trans. by S. Reynolds (1989); Mazey, Sonia, and Newman, Michel, eds., Mitterrand's France (1987); Zeldin, Theodore, The French (1983).
  • GEOGRAPHY: Clout, Hugh D., The Geography of Post-War France (1972); Pinchemel, Philippe, France: A Geographical, Social, and Economic Survey, trans. by Dorothy and T. H. Elkins (1987); Economic Geography (1971); Tuppin, J., The Economic Geography of France (1983).
  • ECONOMICS: Hough, Jean, The French Economy (1982); Keating, Michael, and Hainsworth, Paul, Decentralization and Change in Contemporary France (1986); Price, Roger, An Economic History of Modern France (1981).
  • POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT: Harrison, Martin, et al., De Gaulle to Mitterrand: Presidential Power in France (1993); McCarthy, Patrick, ed., The French Socialists in Power (1987); Safran, William, French Polity, 3d ed. (1991); Tiersky, Ronald, France in the New Europe (1994); Wright, Vincent, The Government and Politics of France, 3d ed. (1989).

Historical Links:

  • Architectural Database (searchable, in French only)
    The "Mérimée" database contains more than 120,000 entries on historical monuments and notable architecture, ranging from the 4th century to 1950, and covering such diverse categories as religious, scholastic, military, industrial, and agricultural sites.
  • Grand Archaeological Sites
    The Ministry of Culture explores great archaeological finds dating back to the Paleolithic period (32,000 to 30,000 years ago), at such sites as the Arago Cave (Tautavel Man), the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave, and the Cave of Lascaux, as well as underwater discoveries.
  • L'Histoire de la République Française (in French only)
    The Prime Minister's office provides this guide to former heads of state, les Grands Discours, European institutions, symbols of the Republic, and constitutional texts.

Napoleonic Imperial Eagle

The Napoleon Foundation
Historians and academic researchers will delight in this massive resource, offering historical documents, photos, and a search engine.

Napoleon search

Napoleon caricature


French Ways & Their Meaning
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French Ways and Their Meaning
by Edith Wharton

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Paperback, 160 pages
Reprint edition (July 1997)
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ISBN: 0936399872

Edith Wharton was devoted to the French people and their culture. During the First World War, while living in France and devoting herself to numerous war and relief efforts, she wrote several essays about the French and the unique attributes of their civilization, having in mind particularly the need for both Americans and the English to understand the ways of a people whose nation they were defending in the Great War. These pieces were first published in book form in 1919.

A Traveller's History of France (4th Ed.)
by Robert Cole

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Paperback, 240 pages
4th edition (March 1997)
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ISBN: 1566562228

This is an excellent book for pre-trip reading or to include on your trip if you have space as you'll refer to it frequently. France for the general reader, not the French History expert.

A Traveller's History of France
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