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Aug. 6, 2022

Imagining Empire with Dr. Christina Carroll

Imagining Empire with Dr. Christina Carroll

Dr. Christina Carroll explains the ideological underpinnings behind the Second French Empire.


Today’s episode is sponsored by scholar and author Lizzi Wolf, whose brand new novel, Citizen Louis-Charles is now available on Amazon. After his father, Louis XVI, and mother, Marie-Antoinette, are beheaded in the French Revolution, 8-year-old King Louis XVII is sealed into a pitch-dark closet and isolated from all human contact. Struggling to survive the darkness, silence, and loneliness, Louis tries to make sense of the cataclysmic events that led to the destruction of his cherished family. As he endures the brutal consequences of his father’s misguided reign, the young king wonders why the French people hated his parents so much, and how he might rise above their moral failings. That’s Citizen Louis-Charles, an exciting new historical fiction novel.

Gary: Today’s special episode is an interview with  Dr. Christina Carroll. Dr. Carroll received her Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill in 2015 and currently serves as an Assistant Professor at Kalamazoo College. Today we are going to talk about her recent book The Politics of Imperial Memory in France, 1850-1900, which details how writers in the Second Empire and the Third Republic thought about the concept of empire. Empire was a heavily contested idea. Under Napoleon Bonaparte’s First French Empire they were synonymous with glory and conquest. When Louis-Napoleon took power he needed to redefine empire to assuage Europeans who feared another age of continental warfare. When the Third Republic overthrew the Second Empire it retained and expanded its many colonies, leading many to question how a republic could also be an empire. It is a complex subject that none can explain better than Dr. Carroll.

Thank you so much for being on the show, Doctor Carroll. Your book The Politics of Imperial Memory in France, 1850 to 1900, has just come out, and it is a truly fantastic work. Your book talks about the meaning of empire in the second half of 19th century France, you describe how France was simultaneously forging a new empire under Napoleon III’s Second Empire, then largely expanded its colonial empire during the Third Republic. Let’s start around 1850. What did empire mean to people?

ChristinaThank you so much for this opportunity, Gary. I’m very excited to be here to talk with you today about my book. So in the early 1850’s the term empire in France was most commonly associated with Napoleon and the Bonapartists. It could also be used to invoke the memory of ancient Rome. It could have colonial connotations as well. The British in particular had been describing their overseas territories explicitly as belonging to what they called the British Empire since the 16th century, and the word empire had sometimes been used in France to describe French overseas possessions as well, although less systematically than in Britain. But overall in France empires association with Bonapartism were stronger than its associations with colonialism in the 1850’s, especially during the Second Republic when Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the nephew of Napoleon I who later becomes Napoleon III as the President of France. And then the association between empire and Bonapartism becomes even stronger after 1852, when Louis Napoleon overthrows the Second Republic and establishes the Second Empire in its place.

GaryA major theme of your book is about who defined empire, which people and groups created popular conceptions of empire and what conflict existed between them.

ChristinaSo my book focuses primarily on the question of how empire was defined in French political and intellectual circles. So in public discourse, basically, which means newspaper and journal articles, official political speeches, government correspondents, colonial administrative documents, theoretical treatises, academic history, political propaganda. I’m trying to think novels right.

GarySounds like a lot.

ChristinaA lot of kind of different spaces. And conversations about empire were unfolding in other kinds of spaces too. But since I was particularly interested in the political implications of arguments over empire, I focused my attention mostly on these kind of public conversations. In terms of who was involved, I think something that is important to keep in mind is that while the public sphere that these debates over empire are emerging in its expanding in the late 19th century, right, but it remained exclusive and fractured by geography and political orientation. Geographic divides played a particularly large role outside of metropolitan France. So even in Algeria, which was just right across the Mediterranean, many publications didn’t really circulate cleanly between Metropole and colony. And correspondents from more distant colonies such as Indochina or Senegal moved through the colonial administration and only indirectly found its way into public circulation. So what that means is that outside of large colonial scandals, which received a lot of coverage in the French Press, metropolitan journalists and writers struggled to sometimes gather pretty basic data about what was happening in the colonies, even well into the 1890’s because the colonial ministry was trying to control information. So that means that this kind of traditional habermasian vision of the public sphere as the place where citizens could come together as equals to rationally debate questions of general interest never really reflected the reality of 19th century France. So there’s not one unified conversation about empire happening. Instead you have these kind of multiple and overlapping but somewhat disjointed ones, and different people are contributing to these different conversations in these different places in different ways. That’s said, the question of whose ideas could enter into wide circulation was definitely intertwined with the social hierarchies that structured the 19th century French Empire. So elites mostly dominated the debate that the book looks at. But even elite communities entered debates from different positions of power and influence. So French politicians and intellectuals and journalists and novelists and colonial administrators and settler communities and colonial subjects. They all have different abilities to command audiences and they also often disagreed with one another. So what that means is that as the levels of influence of different groups shifted, the conversation about empire in the public spheres could shift to. So there’s this big kind of transformation in the debates that happens in the early Third Republic, that partly reflect the fact that settler communities in Algeria are all of a sudden able to command a larger audience and the metropole than they had been able to beneath the Second Empire, because they have these close ties with republican politicians, while indigenous Algerian Elites are even more thoroughly excluded from the conversation. That said, for most of the second half of the 19th century the conversation about empire is mostly dominated by French voices. Relatively few members of colonized communities are able to participate in these conversations as direct interlocutors because of colonial hierarchies and linguistic division and going censorship that specifically target publications not written in French and by those without French citizenship.

GaryAre there any particularly famous names, any famous authors that our listeners might recognize, that weighed in on the idea of empire?

ChristinaYeah, I mean so, the book kind of looks, because I’m again kind of trying to reconstruct arguments about empire as it unfolds in the public sphere. Look at novels, including novels written by Emile Zola, whom people may have heard of right but also, you know, republican political figures like Jules Ferry, and colonial theorists too, so it’s a range, a pretty wide range of people.

GarySo how did the Second empire differ in ideology from the First?

ChristinaSo that’s a really good question. So Napoleon III himself famously explained the relationship between the two empires by positioning himself as Augustus to Napoleon Bonaparte’s Julius Caesar. Napoleon III actually published a history of Julius Caesar in 1865 that made this argument explicitly. So he basically used this analogy to position Napoleon Bonaparte as the general and the conqueror who established the imperial system and himself as the legal theorist who would institutionalize said imperial system. So the claim here is that there’s no difference in ideology between the First and Second Empire. Napoleon III said basically that both Napoleonic empire represented the combination of what he described as the best aspects of the French revolution, so its belief in popular sovereignty, political expression, human progress with the guarantee of order and stability. In practice, of course, what this meant was that both empires used the appearance of democratic practices to underwrite authoritarian political systems. So that’s kind of on the domestic level. Napoleon III’s attempt to define the Second empire’s relationship to the First Empire on the international stage was more complicated. So one of the longstanding republican critiques of the First Empire had been that the empire means war, which was this kind of popular republican slogan in the first half of the nine tenth-century that tried to associate you know, Napoleon with these unending military campaigns. So Napoleon III tried to minimize the importance of those military campaigns when he talked about his uncle’s legacy. He tried to assure his subjects as well as his neighbors that he, like his uncle, wasn’t going to try to conquer the rest of Europe. But at the same time he is also clearly very committed to restoring the myth of French imperial grandeur, and that was based on Napoleon’s first military prowess. So there’s definitely some tension there, and especially in the 1850’s, Napoleon III kind of tries to weave his way through those tensions by positioning the second Empire as the defender of nationalities in Europe. So he basically says that the French Empire will bring about a new era of European harmony by supporting nationalist movements across Europe as they tried to find independence from larger empires like the Russian or Ottoman or Austro-Hungarian empire. And he argued that this support for nationalist movements was the real legacy of the first Napoleonic Empire. And I would say most scholars would say that that claim was based on a misreading of the First Napoleonic Empire. But it was a misreading that had been promoted by Napoleon I himself, who had described his imperial legacy this way in the political memoirs he wrote while he was in captivity on Saint Helena. So Napoleon III is kind of invoking Napoleon, the I own rereading of his imperial ideology, to lay claim to some notion of imperial greatness, even as he’s distancing himself from Napoleon I’s legacy of conquest. But I do think that probably the largest difference between the ideology of the First and Second empires, at least in the 1850’s, is that Napoleon III doesn’t define the Second Empire as a grouping of multiple states, partly because he’s positioning it against these multiethnic empires like Russia and Austria, Hungary. So he usually the French Empire as functionally equivalent to the French Nation all through the 1850’s. And this is definitely distinct from what Napoleon I does. So like Napoleon III, Napoleon I had used empire in opposition to the republic or the monarchy to refer to kind of a specific political organization in, but he also used it to signify strategies for dealing with conquered territory in a way that Napoleon III really didn’t in the 1850’s.

GaryOne area that your book truly shines in is in discussing how the ideology of empire was never a fixed thing, that it often changed and could be adapted to different areas, which I suppose, if we wanted to expand this, I think we could say practically every ideology is like that. We like to think of these as having universal ideas, but in reality, most supposed ideologies adapt to whatever situation they are part of. How did the Second Empire change over time and what events drove these changes?

ChristinaA good question. During the 1860’s, the Second Empire moves into this period of political transition. So economic prosperity, authoritarian control had marked the first decade of Napoleon III’s reign. But by the end of that decade there are growing frustrations within France with but Napoleon III’s foreign policy, new frustrations with the economy that lead Napoleon III, to kind of rethink the empire’s structure and political identity. So he starts looking for new ways to secure prestige abroad and appease dissenters at home. So on the one hand he passes a series of measures to liberalize the empire’s domestic institutions and at the same time he also decides that he’s going to extend the international influence of the Second Empire, not in Europe but overseas. And this embrace of expansionism isn’t just rhetorical. So in the 1860’s, Napoleon III starts to look for ways to increase the scale of the Second Empire, and my book focuses on two main examples. So first I look at Mexico, where Napoleon III tried to create what he called a Latin Empire that would serve as France’s ally in the Americas by overthrowing Mexico’s existing republican government and establishing Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian, a younger brother of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, as the emperor of Mexico. And at the same time he also hoped to recast the Second Empire both as a domestic political program and as a multinational Mediterranean Empire, much like ancient Rome. Ancient Rome is always kind of hovering over all of this thinking, and there he’s kind of focused specifically on redefining France’s relationship to its existing colony of Algeria. So I’ll talk a little bit about how the invasion in Mexico led to changes in the Second Empire’s ideology. And then I’ll talk about Algeria. So from the beginning Napoleon III and his ministers used France’s intervention in Mexico to recast both the purpose and practice of empire, and they do this both in Mexico, which I discuss in the book at some length, and also in France, which I’ll focus on here because it’s more relevant. So Napoleon III specifically began to draw on a discourse of Latin unity or Latinité to justify the Mexican invasion and to claim a new and larger global role for the Second Empire. So in this vision the Second Empire would become a global power destined to lead all Latin peoples, Napoleon III term, because it was equipped with a political system ready for universal export. So the idea was not that the Second Empire would exercise direct control over Latin countries or undermine their national sovereignty. Instead, Napoleon III and his supporters argued France would act as the defender of Latin nations, but implicitly, this claim of assured lain identity gives the Second Empire a reason to interfere with other Latin countries. Governments if Napoleon III decides that their governments are not acting in the best interests of their people. So this vision of the Second Empire draws on the legacy of Rome and Napoleon I even as it also kind of remakes them both. So, on the one hand, the description of the Second Empire imagines that Latin nations, Rome’s heirs would come together in a new federative or neo imperial system directed by France that would restore the Latin peoples to greatness. This is the kind of language Napoleon III uses and at the same time it also positions the Second Empire as a model government that could inspire and unify peacefully many of the countries that the first Napoleonic Empire had tried to conquer. So that’s Mexico. In Algeria too Napoleon III appealed to both the legacy of Rome and the memory of Napoleonic grandeur, to try to recast the Second Empire as larger than it was, without invoking the Napoleonic legacy of conquest. But Napoleon and vision, Napoleon, the third, sorry invasions, empire in Algeria, an empire in Mexico and kind of different terms. So his model for empire in Mexico is based on this sense of civilizational unity and the establishment of a similar imperial political system, not on direct political control, but in the Mediterranean and Algeria, on the other hand, his imagined empire would directly incorporate what he himself described as many diverse peoples, and I think in a lot of ways this tension sharpened the tensions in the consumption conceptions of empire and nation that Napoleon III had faced in Mexico. So the question kind of becomes, even following Napoleon III’s own logic, how could an emperor who says he’s devoted to liberating peoples and guiding them on the path to national independence? How can he justify ruling, let alone conquering, non-French peoples? And how would such an empire remain distinct from these multinational Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires that Napoleon III spent a lot of time talking about is oppressive. So in 1863, just one year after the Mexican expedition began, so that this is happening at about the same time, Napoleon III works through these questions in a public letter to Algeria’s Governor General. He says that Algeria is not a French colony. Instead he says it’s a Royaume Arabe or an Arab Kingdom, and at the same time he positions himself as the emperor of both the French and the Arab peoples. So this argument that he makes that Algeria is an Arab Kingdom distinct from the French Nation. It clearly emerges partially from this commitment to the politics of nationality, but it really does deviate from the vision of the Second Empire that Napoleon III had long promoted so early in his reign, as I mentioned a moment ago, and the third had treated the French Nation and French Empire as equivalent. Essentially right. But according to this new model, the French Empire would be a multi-national entity composed of different nations, ruled by the same central administration. So empire becomes both a form of domestic political organization and a way of ordering different peoples beyond the Metropole beneath one governing body. So the model collapses domestic politics and France’s relationship to overseas territories together into one overarching imperial entity. So there are some things that are similar. I think about both of these visions, both Latinité and Napoleon III plans for a multi-national Mediterranean Empire centered in Algeria. They cast the influence of the Second Empire beyond the borders of France. In Mexico, Napoleon III imagines Empire is a national and global project. He imagines it as involving a set of domestic policies that could strengthen different branches of one Latin race while informally uniting them together. In Algeria, he imagines Empire is a multi-national political formation that could incorporate different peoples, and I will say that these differences in these understandings of empire between Mexico and Algeria are in some sense pretty arbitrary. Both Mexico and Algeria were inhabited by a mix of European and indigenous peoples, but in Mexico Napoleon III and his supporters ignore the indigenous population and classify the whole country as Latin, while in Algeria he and his supporters kind of sweep aside the European settlers and other indigenous groups to describe the country as Arab. So these again are happening at kind of the same time, but Napoleon III is using them to articulate distinct but overlapping visions of the Second Empire. One of the things they really have in common is that they’re both highly unpopular in Mexico, France and Algeria. So the republican government in Mexico, perhaps unsurprisingly, vehemently rejects Napoleon III’s ideas. In France as well, Napoleon III kind of vision for an allied Latin empire in Mexico was greeted with a lot of skepticism, and that’s even before Maximilian’s government fell apart and Maximilian is executed by the republican Mexican troops. And in Algeria a lot of the opposition comes from the settler population. So the settlers are really upset with the fact that Napoleon III has described Algeria as an Arab kingdom. They argue that he’s collapsing the differences between colonists and colonized and subsuming Europeans into the indigenous population. So throughout the 1860’s colonists kind of push back against this idea and they say that Algeria is not an Arab kingdom but a French Colony. They say that they alone can insure the territory’s economic and political success. So because of this opposition, Napoleon III never really succeeds in restructuring Algeria or in carrying out most of his proposed reforms.

GaryThe more I read your book, the more I think that the purpose of a political group is to develop such a complex ideology that literally anything can be permitted due to the intense level of hypocrisy they’ve read. Following the fall of the second empire and the birth of the Third Republic. And this is really where it gets to it, because, as you point out, the Third Republic engaged in a greater empire building than the Second Empire. How did the narrative on empire shift with the rise of the Third Republic?

ChristinaAnother good question and there’s a complicated answer to it, because it does change over time. So I think at least initially, the collapse of Napoleon III’s government, during the Franco-Prussian War, really sharpens the tensions in French understandings of empire. Because even though Napoleon III attempt to establish an imperial government in Mexico and restructure Algeria, had both fallen apart before 1870, his vision of a multinational Mediterranean Empire and France and Mexico united by shared imperial politics and remain kind of a subject of debate right in the public eye. And then, in the wake of French defeat, the republican government that comes to power in the shadow of 1870-71 at the end of the Franco-Prussian War. It defends its legitimacy by defining itself against the imperial government that proceeded it right? So republican politicians and intellectuals argue basically that the reason that France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War is because the Second Empire had weakened the country right. They have this whole kind of narrative about decadence and which, they argue, comes out of the authoritarian politics of the Second Empire. So they say basically that the Second Empire is responsible for all of France’s political misfortunes and that the republic alone can redeem the country in the face of this monumental defeat. And these arguments did throw the nature of France’s relationship with its colonies into question, partly because some of these writers and politicians and intellectuals following Napoleon III continued to actually associate colonialism with empire. And I think that ongoing association at least partially reflects the fact that even the critics of Napoleon III’s Imperial System had often kind of unintentionally reinforced his attempts to combine domestic and overseas imperial politics together. So they also treated domestic empire and overseas empire as intertwined, arguing basically that Napoleon III’s misguided approaches in Algeria and Mexico stemmed from Bonapartism flaws. So, it’s all kind of tied together in one problematic system. So maybe unsurprisingly, Republicans continue to associate Napoleon III’s Mediterranean Empire and his vision of a Latin Empire in Mexico with his domestic imperial system. Throughout the 1870’s. So, as Republicans, you know, start to embark on their own project of overseas colonial expansion in the years that follow, they start to find these widespread negative associations with empire that they themselves have have cultivated troubling. Tellingly I think republican politicians and intellectuals almost entirely stopped using the word empire to refer to France’s overseas territories in the wake of the conflict for about 20 years, in an attempt to kind of undo the associations between empire and France and colonial empire overseas.

GarySo why is it that the Third Republic, which was sometimes led by supposedly anti empire politicians, expanded France’s colonial empire?

ChristinaA very good question, and I think there were a number of reasons for this. Part of the question, as other historians have shown, I think can be answered by looking at the wider European political context in which republican politicians came to power in the aftermath of French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. These politicians are especially worried about France’s global political standing. They feel a sharp sense of political and economic competition with both the newly unified Germany as well as with Britain, and this sense of competition becomes increasingly focused on colonial questions over time, especially after the 1884-85 Berlin Conference, which establishes a set of rules for colonial conquest in Africa in particular, and thereby, I think, helps make said conquest seem inevitable, even as it helps solidify a consensus that war and conquest and domination outside of Europe are morally justified and different from their counterparts within Europe. So there’s this increasingly sharp differentiation between empire within Europe, an empire outside of Europe that’s emerging in different European intellectual contexts at this moment. That said, it’s definitely clear that French Republicans are not just responding or reacting to wider shifts in European politics; they are also playing a central role in making those shifts happen in the first place. So for that reason a number of historians have looked for deeper origins for the republican commitment to colonialism. Some have found those origins in republican principles themselves, particularly in republican universalism, which both bolstered French Republicans belief in the exceptionality of their own culture or civilization and made them less willing to accommodate different. Other scholars have focused less on kind of original principles and argued more that the liberal and republican commitment to colonialism is one that emerges over time. So, as a number of kind of a number of scholars have shown, many liberals and Republicans in the late 18th and early 19th century were pretty critical of early-modern imperial systems. They described them as tyrannical and as exploitative. They contended that their reliance on monopoly trade and enslaved labor undermined liberty, both overseas and at home. But some Republicans at least came to believe that the abolition of slavery basically solved the problem of colonial exploitation. So hence, by the mid-19th century, you see these Republicans and liberals, who sometimes had been initially critical of colonial empire, actually arguing in favor of colonial expansion in the name of now abolishing slavery in Africa. So, abolitionism kind of feeds into this second wave of colonial expansion in complicated ways. I would argue, though, that the Second Empire of Napoleon III made these kinds of arguments more difficult for French Republicans to make, at least for a while. So his attempt to combine domestic and overseas empire into one unified theory of empire collapsed in the face of opposition. But as I said, I think a minute ago, republican critics themselves conflated these different aspects of the Bonapartist Empire as they drew on these older liberal arguments to say that Napoleon III’s warmongering adventures, as they like to call them, and his despotism at home were linked together. So I think that’s why, in the immediate wake of the Franco-Prussian War, when you see Republicans advocating for colonial expansion, they do so in kind of careful terms. So in the 1870’s in particular, the republican government and the colonial administration turn to geographical societies and to explorers to talk about what they’re calling a new model of colonial expansion. Or even, you know they don’t we don’t always use the word expansion. Sometimes they just talk about influence and they don’t usually explicitly compare this model of colonial expansion to Napoleon III’s imperial ideas. But they position it in opposition to the understanding of empire that republican politicians were consolidating in the 1870’s, even though they sometimes borrow from the actual ideas about overseas colonial rule that Napoleon the third had used to shape his empire in Algeria and Mexico, which becomes complicated. So they argue basically that colonial expansion that comes out of exploration would be peaceful. It would have commercial and scientific and humanitarian benefits. It would avoid the military conflict and despotism that Republicans claimed had characterized Napoleonic imperial projects. They say that these expeditions will increase French trade and influence and prestige beyond the borders of France’s current colonies and protectorates, especially around Algeria and Senegal, in Africa and Cochin, China and Cambodia and Southeast Asia. And I should say this portrayal of exploration bore almost no resemblance to the actual practice of exploration or colonial expansion in the 1870’s or the 1880’s. It papers over the violence of what’s happening on-the-ground but it becomes kind of a central way that Republicans talk about it. And I do think tellingly, it’s really only in the 1880’s, at a moment when the Franco-Prussian war and the Second Empire are no longer looming quite so large, that republican politicians start openly talking about an engaging and colonial conquest into Asia and Vietnam. And in the political debates that play out over those decisions you can really see that the perceived connection, an imperial rule abroad and despotism at home, hasn’t totally gone away. So both the right and especially the republican left attack the centrist republican government’s decision to conquer Vietnam and on the left in particular, you see a number of politicians condemning the campaign as a violation of republican principles. A number of politicians compared the military expedition in Vietnam to Napoleon III’s Mexican expedition, specifically now. Tellingly they don’t actually try to give up the centrist republican governments new colonial conquests. So their criticisms don’t go very far. But they do succeed in bringing the centrist republican government down on the strength of them, and it’s really in response to these renewed critiques that centrist Republicans start trying to explicitly defend colonial conquest, usually either by arguing that colonial conquest was an apolitical endeavor, so they say colonial expansion, colonial conquest has nothing to do with political principles or political parties that might be relevant in France. That’s kind of one line of argument. So it’s based on this strong differentiation between politics and Europe and policies outside of Europe. Alternatively, and sometimes simultaneously, they also argue that it doesn’t violate republican principles. So these two arguments are contradictory, but ultimately they’re pretty successful. So in the 1890’s the republican government sends a military expedition to Madagascar, and the whole thing is a military debacle. But while there are lots of attacks on the government’s strategy in Madagascar, there’s not the same kind of criticism of the principles of colonial conquest. And it’s at that moment, in the 1890’s, that you start seeing some republican intellectuals and even some politicians starting to use the term colonial empire to describe France’s overseas territories again after having studiously avoided it for the past 20 years or so, and I think their ability to use that word in the 1890’s reflects their confidence that most French people would no longer associate colonial empire with Bonapartist Empire. So the republican embrace of empire is partly about political strategy. I think it’s partly about the fading or forgetting of Bonapartism as a political threat. It’s also about the growing power and solidification of racist thinking during the 1880’s and 1890’s, which I’ve said less about but which also definitely contributed to Republicans kind of growing consensus that empire in Europe is different from empire outside of Europe.

GaryThe purpose of political ideology is to reach a-level of hypocrisies. Everything is permissible. That’s the main take away. I’ve got from your book. I think I just wrote your book for you.

ChristinaI think you did. Yes, I think so.

GaryAll right, I hope that I get some royalties.

ChristinaAll right, whatever, you know, I’ll send them in your direction.

Gary: What influence, and I know you’ve touched on this a little bit, but what influence did colonial voices have on French narratives of empire?

ChristinaThat’s another good question and the answer, I would say, varies depending on where and when you’re looking. So, as I mentioned earlier, throughout most of this period there are structural barriers that make it more difficult for colonized people to participate in French conversations about empire so tellingly. I think in the earliest periods that I’m looking at the two groups of people who lived in colonized spaces, who are most able to directly participate in these conversations and command an audience in the French Metropol were Mexican conservative, elites and Algerian settlers, both of whom are able to mobilize their own white privilege and their close connections with Europe to command an audience. So it’s really only at the very end of this period, in the early 20th century, where you start to see colonized communities like the young Algerians in Algeria, for example, able to command an audience in France. So the young Algerians were a group of French educated, Algerian Muslims who were deeply influenced by the young Turk revolution of 1908, which at least initially had tried to create a liberal constitutional government that would revitalize the Ottoman Empire in the face of encroaching European imperial powers. They were even more directly inspired by the young Tunisian movement. So members of the group took a wide range of positions on Algeria’s future and its relationship to France. So they’re kind of hard to generalize about, but most condemned the exploitative, authoritarian and exclusionary political structures under which Algerians lived and they proposed a variety of reforms that they suggested the French Republic should follow if it actually wanted to assimilate Algeria, which was the language used by the republic to describe its own policies, Algeria at the time, and they tried to build alliances across the Mediterranean with politicians and intellectuals who were critical of settlers, hegemony and Algeria. So they published in French metropolitan journals, they write petitions to the metropolitan government, they send delegations to France to explain their ideas; a group in 1912 is actually able to meet with the French Prime Minister, but tellingly, I think, while the delegation seems to have been received pretty warmly by a variety of men officials, those officials didn’t follow through on any of their proposed reforms, at least before World War I. So again, you can kind of see this unwillingness to listen. That’s said, the actions of colonized communities directly affected French debates about empire at a number of different points. So the Mokrani uprising in Algeria in 1871, which happens shortly after the Franco-Prussian War, where a large number of people in Algeria rise up against French rule. That has deep effects on the way that French Republicans talk about French rule in Algeria and the territories relationship to France over the next decade or so. Similarly, the aided the King movement in Vietnam frustrated the French military’s ability to conquer Vietnam and contributed to the political crisis over republican colonial expansion in the Chamber of Deputies in the 1880’s. So the conversation about empire is by design, I would say an exclusionary one, but different colonized communities absolutely influence it through their actions.

GarySo, finally, did a settled, popularly accepted definition of empire ever take root in France, or was it always a contested idea?

ChristinaSo I would say that while different narratives about empire gained and lost influence at particular historical moments, I would not describe ideas about it in France as ever fully settled, perhaps partly, as I think may be indicated at the beginning. It’s really hard to imagine universal agreement on the meaning or implications of any political idea. But well, my book does trace the growing acceptance of the term colonial empire in the 1890’s. As colonial advocates start rallying around the idea, it’s clear that even at that moment there are still uncertainties about the terms, political implications in Republican France. Tellingly, I think the French government only adopts it formally. They only start describing the Colonies as the French empire under the fascist regime, which I think that it does indicate that republican ambivalence about empire did not entirely disappear even in the early 20th century, when most scholars would agree. I think that the popularity of the colonial empire in France was probably at its height. And then in the decades after World War I you see this new wave of criticism originating especially from groups in the colonies, as well as the Communist Party, who are again highlighting the contradictions between republican discourses and imperial practices, and their voices remain still relatively marginalized in the interwar years. But they become stronger again after 1945 as peoples inferences colonies increasingly demand access to full citizenship rights and attack the premise of empire itself. And in response to that criticism, Republicans again try to redefine empire and re articulate its relationship to the French nation, partly by turning away once again from the term empire and toward alternative constructions of France overseas, the French Union and the French Community. And in doing so Republicans would again unsuccessfully try to renegotiate the complicated relationship between the Republic, the nation and overseas territory. So I do think the idea remains contested and in some ways those contestations become more pointed in the 20th century.

GaryThe book is The Politics of Imperial Memory in France, 1850 to 1900. It is a truly fantastic work and, despite my pithiness, I did not sum it up in one-sentence it is definitely worth getting and checking out to understand what it is that French people were thinking about at multiple levels, about empire and how it was justified both within the Second Empire and then into the Third Republic. Thank you very much for being on the show, Doctor Carroll.

ChristinaThank you so much once again for having me.

GaryAs always, donations keep the podcast going, so if you would like to make a one time donation or become a patron, please consider doing so. Thank you very much for your continued support.