Guardians of the state


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January 2020


Doctoral defense

Guardians of the state

Jan Naert successfully defended his dissertation on the mayors of occupied Belgium and France during the First World War on January 29. For the research, he relied, among other things, on nominative lists of mayors and population figures from the period 1900-1913 that the Quetelet Center makes available.


This study deals with the mayors who served under the German occupation of Belgium and northern France during World War I. It addresses two central questions. The first gauges the political legitimacy of the mayor and his governance during the war. Was it subject to change as a result of the occupation context? Did the definition of what ‘legitimate’ or ‘good’ governance is, acquire a different interpretation? How did mayors try to respond to that? And finally, what was the verdict at the end of the war? The second question in this dissertation assesses how the local level of administration related to the Belgian or French central state. World War I historians seem to agree nowadays that the state, and by extension the governmental authority in occupied Belgium and northern France, ‘disintegrated’ as a result of the war context. This study tests this thesis against the events at the local level. How did this disintegration process manifest itself? And how did it impact the local governance level and the functioning of the mayors? This research study answers these and other questions from of a combined transnational and local historical point of view. The analysis starts from several specific themes which are studied from the bottom up at six local case studies: Antwerp, Lille, Alost, Fourmies, Houdeng-Aimeries and Solesmes. 

PhD thesis :

Jan Naert. Hoeders van de staat: burgemeesters in bezet en bevrijd België en Noord-Frankrijk (1914-1921). PhD scriptie, Universiteit Gent, 2020.