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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 ».

Ralph Ghoche

Samia Henni

Nadrah Mohammed

Meeting Schedule

09/30/2022 Maison Française, Columbia University and Zoom
12:30 PM
The Debris of Takiyyat Ibn Tulun
Mohamad Ziad Jamaleddine, Columbia University


Between 1846-1880, the Ibn Tulun mosque (876–79) was recast as an asylum and poorhouse, its spaces transformed to meet the requirements of those programs. Following the asylum’s closure, the Comité de la Conservation des Monuments de L’Art Arabe (Comité) initiated a decades-long assessment and restoration project, aiming to restore the visibly deteriorated mosque’s historical form. Through a comparison of two plans, which captured opposite ends of the Comité’s restoration, this paper argues that the desire to restore the diagrammatic clarity of Ibn Tulun’s archaeological plan erased historical evidence of the mosque’s ability to adapt to the dynamic needs of its urban context and community.

Avinoam Shalem, Columbia University

10/21/2022 Maison Française, Columbia University and Zoom
12:30 PM
Protection Power: The Many Meanings of French Protection in the Imperial Mediterranean
Youssef Ben Ismail, Columbia University


This paper examines the language of French imperialism in North Africa through a study of the ambiguous notion of protection. Throughout the nineteenth century, France never ceased to claim the status of “protector” over the Ottoman province of Tunis. Taking this observation as its starting point, the paper examines how this ubiquitous –if evasive– concept of protection provided grounds for French imperial meddling in Tunisia before and after the onset of French colonialism. It traces the evolution of French protection claims, their concrete political implications in Tunis, and their reception by the Ottomans in Istanbul.

Emmanuelle Saada, Columbia University

11/18/2022 Zoom
12:30 PM

Dalila Senhadji, University of Science and Technology of Oran Mohamed-Boudiaf

Ralph Ghoche, Barnard College

02/10/2023 Maison française, 2nd Floor
12:30 PM
Kaiama L. Glover, Barnard College, Columbia University


By the mid-1930s, migration from the French colonies had brought Afro-intellectuals into the heart of political and artistic conversations in the metropoles of Europe and had created imbricated spaces of heated debate. Coming from various nations in Africa and Americas, the interlocutors in these debates grappled with their fraught relationship to imperial centres while addressing questions specific to their diverse national contexts and racialized realities. The declarations they made and conclusions they drew were scrutinized by multiple, and at times antagonistic publics. This article chronicles a fascinating instance of such networked literary polemics: the 1955–1956 Présence Africaine ‘Debate on National Poetry’. It offers a close look at the intellectual and political underpinnings of this fraught exchange between celebrated Martinican poet-statesman Aimé Césaire and then-militant socialist Haitian poet René Depestre as a means of understanding how twentieth-century intellectual and artistic movements in Europe presented real challenges to prominent figures in the (imminently post-)colonial francophone world. Depestre’s uncomfortable positioning reflects the larger quandary facing Afro-diasporic intellectuals and artists called on to navigate identities that reflected their political commitments and the expectations of their white allies, on the one hand, and their racial identifications, on the other.

Laurent Dubois, University of Virginia

03/03/2023 501 Diana Center, 5th floor, Barnard College
11:00 AM
al-Djaz’ir/Algiers: excavating the pluvial city from Mahieddine
Sheila Crane, University of Virginia

Samia Henni, Cornell University

04/21/2023 Maison française, 2nd Floor
12:30 PM
Tristan Leperlier, Columbia University

Madeleine Dobie, Columbia University