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The French Colonial Mind, Volume 1

Mental Maps of Empire and Colonial Encounters

Martin Thomas

Publication Year: 2012

What made France into an imperialist nation, ruler of a global empire with millions of dependent subjects overseas? Historians have sought answers to this question in the nation’s political situation at home and abroad, its socioeconomic circumstances, and its international ambitions. But all these motivating factors depended on other, less tangible forces, namely, the prevailing attitudes of the day and their influence among those charged with acquiring or administering a colonial empire. The French Colonial Mind explores these mindsets to illuminate the nature of French imperialism.
The first of two linked volumes, Mental Maps of Empire and Colonial Encounters brings together fifteen leading scholars of French colonial history to investigate the origins and outcomes of imperialist ideas among France’s most influential “empire-makers.” Considering French colonial experiences in Africa and Southeast Asia, the authors identify the processes that made Frenchmen and women into ardent imperialists. By focusing on attitudes, presumptions, and prejudices, these essays connect the derivation of ideas about empire, colonized peoples, and concepts of civilization with the forms and practices of French imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The contributors to The French Colonial Mind place the formation and the derivation of colonialist thinking at the heart of this history of imperialism.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. c-ii

Title Page

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p. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv-iv


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pp. v-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Historical inquiry is often predicated on deceptively simple questions, one of which is “Why did people do that?” Answers are typically formulated around a combination of internal motivations and external factors: prevailing socioeconomic conditions, calculations of personal or political advantage, national security requirements, ethnic loyalties,...

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Introduction: Mapping the French Colonial Mind

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pp. xi-l

What is the French colonial mind? The proposition that there existed a collective conscious, or unconscious, thought process — a universal mind of French colonialism — that influenced, determined, or otherwise affected key decisions in the colonial encounter may appear ambitious to the credulous, ludicrous to the skeptic. There were, of course, countless...

PART 1Colonial Encounters and Imaginings of Empire

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1 Reflections on the French Colonial Mind

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pp. 3-25

“What is the French colonial mind?” Martin Thomas asks in the introduction to this two-volume collection of conference papers. If the answer in the colonial context is elusive, or it might be better to say complicated, the question of what exactly the term “mind” signifies, without the tag of “French colonial,” is even more so. Should we interpret it as a faculty...

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2 Intellectuals for Empire? The Imperial Training of Félicien Challaye, 1899–1914

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pp. 26-48

The notion of an “imperial mentality,” though often used by historians, demands a more nuanced approach to current debates about colonial culture and its legacy in France. The concept extends beyond simple commentary about the images and discourse of institutional propaganda to explore their social, political, and cultural...

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3 Colonial Minds and African Witchcraft: Interpretations of Murder as Seen in Cases from French West Africa in the Interwar Era

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pp. 49-71

Belief in witchcraft, “ritual” crimes, and witches’ secret societies has always represented one of the primary images of Africa in the French colonial mind. It was certainly one of the continent’s most disturbing and lurid images that colonial minds could conjure. The literature of the period further reinforced it. Paul Morand’s descriptions of Africa, for...

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4 The Colonial Cosmology of Fernand Braudel

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pp. 72-95

There exists an intimacy, as Robert Young points out, between empires, bodies of water, and the cyclical nature of history.1 Throughout history imperial pretenders have risen and fallen, ebbed and flowed in time with the waves that carried them to their happy destinations. Of the many who have contemplated this tripartite relationship none was more...

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5 Mental Maps of Modernity in Colonial Indochina during World War II: Mobilizing Sport to Combat Threats to French Rule

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pp. 96-118

Under the Vichy empire, French authorities at home and abroad introduced new policies that used sport and youth corps activities to mobilize physical education as a means to regulate cultural behavior and political loyalties. Such policies were motivated by the need to rejuvenate a population that had been defeated by Germany in France and by Japan in...

PART 2 Language, Culture, and Communities of the Colonial Mind

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6 Anticlericalism, French Language Policy,and the Conflicted Colonial Mind in Cameroon, 1923–1939

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pp. 121-143

Perhaps more so than for any other colonial power, the twin issues of language and education policy played a vitally important role in shaping and reflecting the French colonial mind. In interwar Cameroon that translated into a single-minded commitment on the part of colonial administrators to rapidly spread French language and culture as part of a campaign to...

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7 Information and Intelligence Collection among Imperial Subjects Abroad: The Case of Syriansand Lebanese in Latin America, 1915–1930

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pp. 144-167

The establishment of French mandates throughout the former Ottoman provinces of Greater Syria and Mount Lebanon had certain unforeseen demographic consequences for France. One of these was the acquisition of administrative responsibility for multi-ethnic mandate populations of whom an estimated one-seventh of the total population of Syria and...

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8 Religious Rivalry and Cultural Policymaking in Lebanon under the French Mandate

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pp. 168-193

In 1929 the newly chosen Lebanese prime minister, Émile Eddé, initiated an ambitious agenda of reforms. This ill-fated program soon toppled his government and provoked demonstrations not only in Lebanon but also in Syria, Egypt, and Iraq. The spark that ignited the uproar pertained to schools: Eddé closed one hundred state schools allegedly in order to...

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9 France’s Arabic Educational Reforms in Algeria during the Colonial Era: Language Instruction in Colonial and Anticolonial Minds before and after Algerian Independence

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pp. 194-216

After the European empires retreated from the colonial world, postcolonial politicians initiated vigorous language policies that played out in many national arenas. As a result, from Asia to the Middle East, from South to North Africa, and within North and South America, debates over language came to form a key element of the domestic discourse of...

PART 3 Administrators and the Colonial Mind after World War II

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10 Thinking Like an Empire: Governor Henri Laurentie and Postwar Plans for the Late Colonial French “Empire-State”

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pp. 219-250

Sometime in late 2004, an e-mail dropped into my inbox that caused me a momentary frisson, as it appeared to originate from a man whom I had never met, though I felt I had come to know him quite well; I also knew him to have died in ripe old age in October 1984 (as it happens, less than a year before I first encountered him in the archives). In broad...

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11 Recycling Empire: French Colonial Administrators at the Heart of European Development Policy

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pp. 251-274

It is hard to find more fitting words than Monsieur Cheysson’s to describe the influence and role of ex-colonial officers on the newly minted development policy of the European Economic Community (eec) from its inception in the early 1960s through the mid-1970s. So far this role, and the centrality of colonial minds to it, have been largely neglected....

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12 Friend or Foe? Competing Visions of Empirein French West Africa in the Run-up to Independence

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pp. 275-297

It is generally accepted that French decolonization in Africa south of the Sahara was, from the French point of view at least, largely successful. Unlike in Madagascar, Indochina, and Algeria, there was no war of decolonization or widespread loss of life. The transition to independence was relatively smooth and peaceful. I have argued elsewhere that this...

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13 Thinking between Metropole and Colony:The French Republic, “Exceptional Promotion,” and the “Integration” of Algerians, 1955–1962

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pp. 298-323

The Algerian Revolution (1954–62) was one of the signal events of the modern history of Western imperialism, particularly its mid-twentieth-century crisis. From the first months of this fight for national independence, however, many French commentators who sought to avoid what they saw as Algeria’s “secession” did so by arguing that what was at...

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14 Rigged Elections? Democracy and Manipulation in the Late Colonial State in French West Africa and Togo, 1944–1958

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pp. 324-346

The enactment of voting rights for African populations was a watershed in colonial rule throughout sub-Saharan Africa after the Second World War.1 No one devised or enacted electoral reforms with quite the complexity or with such dogged persistence as the French. Nearly every year from the end of World War II in 1945 until the final, formal...

List of Contributors

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pp. 347-350


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pp. 351-372

E-ISBN-13: 9780803233904
E-ISBN-10: 0803233906
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803220935
Print-ISBN-10: 0803220936

Page Count: 424
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Africa, French-speaking West -- Colonization -- History.
  • Africa, French-speaking Equatorial -- Colonization -- History.
  • France -- Colonies -- Africa -- Administration -- History.
  • France -- Colonies -- Africa -- History.
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