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  • Preface
  • Kenneth J. Orosz

The contents of volume 18 of French Colonial History once again demonstrate the global and temporal reach of the French colonial empire with a set of essays focusing on events from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries taking place in the Americas, Asia, and France. The authors of the five essays in this issue range from established scholars and longtime members of the French Colonial Historical Society to those new to the field, reflecting both the society's welcoming nature and its international appeal.

Julien Vernet and John Hennessey both take a new look at the rationale behind adopting assimilation as the basis for colonial rule in English-speaking North America and Japanese Taiwan, offering up important correctives to existing interpretations of the decision-making process. In the 1830s the British government tasked Lord Durham with making recommendations about how to best absorb French Canadians into the British Empire. When drafting his report, Durham drew heavily on lessons gleaned from the recent absorption of Louisiana by the United States. While most scholars accept at face value his claim that assimilation was the key that made the relatively seamless absorption of Louisiana possible, Vernet shows that Durham ignored or misinterpreted evidence clearly showing that Louisiana's path to statehood was actually a rocky one precisely because her Francophone population refused to relinquish cherished French political institutions and legal traditions. In the case of Taiwan, the conventional historical view is that Japanese leaders like Hara Takashi adopted assimilation after listening to supposedly committed assimilationist French advisors like Michel Revon. As Hennessey shows, the reality was far murkier. Not only was [End Page v] Revon not a committed assimilationist, as demonstrated by his insistence that it should not be applied to the Liaodong Peninsula, but his influence on Japanese decision makers appears to have been minimal. According to Hennessey, Hara ultimately advocated assimilation in Taiwan in the belief that it would be easy to achieve and would aid in the resolution of domestic Japanese political considerations.

Although they come at it from very different time periods and geographical areas, Sandra Slater and Owen White both look at images of heroism and manliness as elements in first establishing and then attempting to revive the French colonial empire. Slater retraces Samuel de Champlain's involvement in the Mohawk Wars and subsequent victory celebrations as a means of exploring shared concepts of courage and masculinity rooted in military service, which she argues led to genuinely warm relations with the Algonquins. In her retelling, Champlain's willingness to fight alongside Indian neighbors was less about maintaining economic connections than an exchange of symbiotic worldviews that fostered the creation of important bonds that ultimately made New France a success. Moving forward in time to metropolitan France, White's essay looks at public reactions to the themes of heroism and service portrayed in Léon Poirier's colonial films. Both L'Appel du silence (1936), which focused on the life of priest and former soldier Charles de Foucauld, and Brazza, ou l'épopée du Congo (1946), about Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza, portrayed their protagonists as great men and celebrated their contributions to empire, but ultimately received very different reactions from the French public. Ultimately, L'Appel was the greater success because it followed in the footsteps of the successful 1931 Exposition Coloniale, brought home the landscape of Algeria to French moviegoers in vivid detail, and argued that religion could reenergize and help rebuild the nation as it struggled to recover from the twin calamities of World War I and the Depression. Poirier's effort to revisit those themes in Brazza failed to connect with an audience grappling with the onset of a new war and the knowledge that colonial exploitation belied the benign depiction of the mission civilisatrice conveyed in his film.

Rounding out the issue is Vincent Bollenot's article on anticolonial protests elicited by the 1931 Exposition Coloniale. While the Exposition has normally been seen as a source of pro-colonial propaganda, Bollenot shows that it mobilized and brought anticolonial groups in the metropole out of the woodwork. The activists in question, many of whom were male immigrants from the colonies, worked...


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