This University Seminar focuses on the transnational material, intellectual and symbolic exchanges that have characterized the regions that once composed successive French empires since the seventeenth century. The seminar will not be an exercise in colonial or imperial history, organized around the opposition between « center » and « periphery », but rather an exploration of connections and lines of fragmentation within that space. The goal of the seminar will be to explore not only France’s global expansion and retraction in the modern period, but, no less significantly, the after-lives of the French empire in various post-colonies, networks, and institutions. Our goal is to map a distinct—but not isolated—world within the “globe,” one conditioned but not defined by France, its empires, its language, and its ecumene. Inherently interdisciplinary, the seminar will bring together scholars in the humanities and the social sciences from Europe, North America, Asia, and Africa in order to understand these complex exchanges that reach « Beyond France ».
This chapter examines the correspondence between Jean Montague, an enslaved boy in Paris, and Benjamin Franklin, correspondence that illuminates the ways that enslaved people contested power and personhood in France as both the site of their enslavement and a land of freedom. Drawing on Ivorian novelist Véronique Tadjo’s work on infinite replications of Afro-diasporic narratives of resistance, I recount Montague’s life story in three different ways that move beyond historical reconstruction to consider alternate modes of accounting for the fragments of enslaved people’s lives in the archive. A close reading of the letters by and about Montague shows that his multiple attempts at flight constituted acts of self-fashioning by which he refused the objectification of slavery and articulated a vision of freedom that foregrounded his mobility and bodily autonomy. His recurrent acts of flight reveal the promises and limitations of the law as a means for young people’s contestation of slavery and highlight fugitivity as a strategic fashioning of oneself as free.
Annette Joseph-Gabriel is an Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her research focuses on race, gender, and citizenship in the French-speaking Caribbean, Africa, and France. Her book, Reimagining Liberation: How Black Women Transformed Citizenship in the French Empire (University of Illinois Press, 2020) mines published writings and untapped archives to reveal the anticolonialist endeavors of Black women in the French empire. She has published articles in peer-reviewed journals including Small Axe, Slavery & Abolition, Eighteenth-Century Studies and The French Review, and her public writings have been featured in Al Jazeera and HuffPost. She is a recipient of the Carrie Chapman Catt Prize for Research on Women and Politics. She is also the managing editor of Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International and production editor of Women in French Studies.
Discussant: Jessica Marie Johnson, Johns Hopkins University
Online Meeting 12:30 PM
Race and the inconvertible: How the secularization and codification of Islamic Law became the matrix of the Indigénat in 19th century Algeria
In this talk, I will try and deploy an alternative interpretation of the indigénat in the French Empire and more specifically in 19th century colonized Algeria. Based on a demonstration described in chapter 3 of my book Des empires sous la terre : Histoire écologique et raciale de la sécularisation, I examine how the codification of Islamic Law is the matrix of the indigénat. The racialization of Muslims, so I argue, should be seen as the result of secularization, a process which is not reducible to a decline of religion but rather is its very construction as ‘personal status’, at the intersection of both race and the family. Indeed, while scholars of Islam have been examining the way in which Islamic Law was codified and thus secularized by colonial states, they tend to ignore the ways in which this codification has led to the making of race. On the other hand, Scholars of colonialism and of critical race studies tend to examine the racialization of Muslims without giving sufficient attention to its theological-political aspects and its institutional mechanisms. The talk will therefore question the limitations of both these traditions. It will then question some traditional French historiographies of ‘colonial Algeria’ by showing the centrality of association - a bifurcated form of government comparable to ‘indirect rule’ and apartheid - in the juridical and institutional making of the indigène before the fall of the Second Empire in 1870. Far from simply deploying a criticism of secularism or laïcité, it will try and determine the extent to which contemporary Islamic or Islamist languages are still indebted to the colonial trajectories of secularization.
Mohamad Amer Meziane is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at IRCPL and a lecturer in the department of religion at Columbia University. He holds a PhD in Philosophy from Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University. His first book, Des empires sous la terre, published in 2021 by La Découverte deploys an ecological and racial history of secularisation. Proposing the notion of the Secularocene to describe our present, he argues that the racialization of Islam and climate change can be seen as two outcomes of the secularization of empires during the 19th century. He is currently working on two book manuscripts. The first one, tentatively titled After the Critique of Heaven?, examines how the imperial construction of the concepts of religion and race by missionaries and early anthropologists has structured the making of central themes of modern European philosophy. The second one focuses on the experience of North Africans in both North Africa and France by questioning how North Africa is described as a double-margin of both Africa and the Arab world.
Discussant: Todd Shepard, Johns Hopkins University
Online Meeting 12:30 PM
Re-Scripting and (Re-)Gendering French Antillean Discourses
Sex, Sea, and Self excavates forgotten voices and their layered discourses to underscore the complexity of identity politics in the French Caribbean between 1924 and 1948. This study looks at a time of chaotic transition and renewed conflict to transform our understanding of Francophone literary canons. An emphasis on women’s experiences and feminine authorship, for instance, insists on the significance of theoretical contributions by French Antillean women intellectuals to the domain of Caribbean critical theory. However, this study also offers original approaches to works by male authors of African descent. Chapter 5 particularly examines what I term the motif of déraison and the Martinican Raphaël Tardon’s short story. [“La Rédemption de Barbaroux” [“The Redemption of Barbaroux,” 1946] and novel Starkenfirst (1947), in order to demonstrate how this author undermines Western humanism and the colonial project. Considering his representations of women not only as colonial tropes but as appellations d’origine contrôlée (AOC) [“protected designations of origin”] of the imaginary allow us to see how these persistent tropes still cause exclusion and dissension and negatively affect the contemporary French Antilles. In each text, Tardon explores in grotesque and horrific fashion several afterlives of slavery namely the various iterations of the flesh trade; he uses representations of sexuality and sexual coercion of white and Black women to denounce European colonialism as a mercantilistic, sexualized project of domination.
Jacqueline Couti is the Laurence H. Favrot Professor of French Studies at Rice university. Her research and teaching interests delve into the transatlantic and transnational interconnections between cultural productions from continental France and its now former colonies. Her work explores constructions of gender, race, sexuality, identity politics, and nationalism. A central theme of her research is how local knowledge in the colonial and post-colonial eras has shaped the literatures, and the cultural awareness of the self, in former French colonies through specific representations of sexuality.
She is the author of Dangerous Creole Liaisons (2016) and Sex, Sea, and Self: Sexuality and Nationalism in French Caribbean Discourses 1924-1948 (2021). Her most recent publication includes: “Ti-Punch, ron y sexo: un acercamiento ecofeminista literario al mundo de la plantación,” Ecología Política (2021), “Lumina Sophie, Nineteenth-Century Martinique,” in Women Claiming Freedom: Gender, Race, and Liberty in the Americas (Cambridge University Press, 2020).
Discussant: Alex Gil, Columbia University
Online Meeting 12:30 PM
Radiant Matter: Technologies of Light & the long shadow of French nuclear imperialism in the Algerian Sahara
Beginning in 1960, near the end of Algeria’s long war to end 132 years of French colonial occupation (1830-1962), the French military carried out seventeen nuclear bomb detonations at secret bases constructed for this purpose in what is now the Algerian Sahara. This French imperial ‘radiance’ has left an enduring radiological and epistemological legacy whose effects have not been fully measured or made known, let alone redressed. Taking off from a premise that maps and archives are political instruments that have helped to render seventeen nuclear bomb detonations on the African continent at once justifiable and forgettable, and grounded by close analysis of transmedial artworks by Bruno Hadjih, Elisabeth Leuvrey, and Ammar Bouras, this paper investigates the critical possibilities of aesthetic representation for apprehending and addressing the slow violence of French nuclear imperialism that targets desert ecosystems and epistemologies for destruction.
Jill Jarvis is an assistant professor in the Department of French at Yale, where she is also a member of the Councils on African Studies and Middle East Studies and a founding convener of the Desert Futures interdisciplinary research collective. Her first book, Decolonizing Memory: Algeria and the Politics of Testimony was published by Duke UP in 2021, and now she is writing Signs in the Desert: Aesthetic Cartographies of the Sahara. Her other works have appeared or are forthcoming in New Literary History, Representations, PMLA, Yale French Studies, Expressions maghrébines, The Journal of North African Studies, and Public Books.
Online Meeting 12:30 PM
Of Earthen Gourbis and Troglodytic Caves: Informality, Vernacular "Discoveries," and their Slippages in Modernist Discourses of Tunisian Architecture
Postwar (post-WWII) reconstruction in Tunisia ushered in a new era of architectural and spatial planning, during the late French protectorate period. The Swiss architect Bernard Zehrfuss, charged to head the reconstruction efforts, painstakingly surveyed the Tunisian countryside, trying to catalogue its vernacular architectural typologies--from the early Islamic mosque of Kairouan, to the troglodytic structures of Medenine or Matmata, to the white-plastered domes peppering the town of Sidi Bou Saïd. This postwar period was also a phase that witnessed mass-scale rural-urban migrations across the country, with a surge in informal, earthen structures, called gourbis being built by migrants in search of opportunity. These structures too, were an object of fascination for Zehrfuss's transnational team of reconstruction architects. Later, after independence, in 1957, President Habib Bourguiba would issue a formal decree mandating the razing of gourbivilles, or earthen slum districts, on the peripheries of cities like Tunis and Bizerte. But, paralleling phenomena in Casablanca’s vast Carrière Centrale bidonville district, what transpired in Tunisia was quite similar; those slum-dwellers for whom social housing units were built, could not afford the lifestyle and maintenance of even the most austere units. Yet, what was the epistemological relationship between the informal and the vernacular in this context of postwar reconstruction? How was the informal taken to be a typology of the vernacular? In taking the contemporary discourses of CIAM or Bernard Rudofsky into account, this paper illuminates how utopic, modernist re-imaginings of both informal and vernacular structures were aestheticized, on the one hand, but it also demonstrates how these same writings ethnographically fabricated slippages between the informal and the vernacular, in postwar Tunisia.
Discussant: Sheila Crane, University of Virginia
Online Meeting 12:30 PM
Les suppliques de Noureldine, une carrière de famille (1896-1910)