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Reviewed by:
  • Historiographie de la Nouvelle-Calédonie
  • David Chappell (bio)
Historiographie de la Nouvelle-Calédonie, by Frédéric Angleviel. Paris: Publibook, 2003. ISBN 9-782748-302899; 362 pages, tables, figures, notes. €28.50.

Frédéric Angleviel, a professor of contemporary history at the University of New Caledonia, is part of a generation of local historians who have worked to improve scholarly research and pedagogical materials in their country since the Matignon and Noumea peace accords of 1988 and 1998. Others include Ismet Kurtovitch (politics 1940–1953), Louis-José Barbançon (penal colony), Sylvette Boyer (World War I and 1917 Kanak revolt), and Christiane Terrier (free colonization). Angleviel's timely study of the historiography of his country is a useful overview based on four years of gathering and analyzing more than 2,250 references. He also wrote a companion book for teachers, Les fondements de l'histoire de la Nouvelle-Calédonie: Définition, périodisation, sources, published in Noumea by the Centre de Documentation Pédagogique in 2003.

Given the multiethnic complexity of New Caledonia and the ongoing hegemony of France over an autonomous country, Angleviel's task was a daunting one, and some other scholars in this small society resent the way they are represented. Angleviel aspires to be "as neutral as possible" (6), but he does express his own opinions about methodology and politics. For example, he argues that his generation of university-trained historians seeks to transcend the dichotomy between orality (or artifacts) and written texts as evidence. He regards oral tradition [End Page 456] as an important source of information, along with archaeology, about prehistory, but because oral traditions are selective and increasingly truncated over time, written history can better "traverse the ages" (14). He chooses not to use the invariable spelling of Kanak which, as a self-identified "caldoche" (French settler) member of the largest loyalist party, he sees as pro-independence (despite its use in the Noumea Accord), so he adds French feminine or plural suffixes, which he explains in Fondements (2, note 3) as "more consensual in the long term." He also prefers the French historical style over that of "Anglo-Saxons," who he says write studies narrowly limited in scope by their Islander-oriented focus on oral traditions and ethnography (which he attributes to the relative "newness" ofcountries like Australia or the United States [251]); begin with their conclusions; jump into detailed narration in endless chapters "like English gardens"; and ignore the classic Cartesian structure of an opening problematic followed by two or three main parts as established by "our elders," each containing a "sacrosanct balance in two or three subdivisions of equal length" (254). He praises Bronwen Douglas and Alice Bullard for their theoretical contributions on New Caledonia, but he also sees much "Anglo-Saxon" writing on the territory as hypocritical because it often fails to situate the wrongs of French colonialism within the larger context of European (including Anglophone) settler expansion in the Pacific region and elsewhere (139).

True to his format, Angleviel's first part examines the motley corpus of historical writing on New Caledonia, from accounts by mariners, missionaries, and administrators (whose Eurocentric errors he criticizes while presenting a few countervailing voices such as that of Louise Michel, the Communard author); through the early "creole" writings by local settlers who tended to criticize the indigenous Kanak with whom they were in competition for land and legitimacy and to favor convict colonization as a source of cheap labor; to the rise of "scientific" (scholarly) historical research after World War II, at first bymetropolitan ethnographers (Maurice Leenhardt, Jean Guiart, Alban Bensa), geographers (François and Jean-Pierre Doumenge, Alain Saussol, Jean-Claude Roux), historians (Joël Dauphiné, Isabelle Merle), and "Anglo-Saxons" like Dorothy Shineberg, Kerry Howe, Robert Aldrich, John Connell, and Stephen Henningham—whose book Angleviel says "militated for independence" (134). He even mentions me kindly (258).

The first local historical "school" was that founded by Leenhardt in 1938, the reformist Société des Études Melanesiennes, and the second was that founded by Bernard Brou in 1968, the rather pro-colonial Société des Études Historiques de la Nouvelle-Calédonie (SEHNC). While the former...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 456-458
Launched on MUSE
2006-07-27
Open Access
No
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