CFP. Special Issue of French History on “French Colonial Histories from Below”

[Version française ci-dessous]

The editors of French History seek articles for a special issue on the theme of “French Colonial Histories from Below” to appear in autumn 2019.

Since French History published its first special issue devoted to France’s colonial past in 2006, empire has developed into a vibrant area of inquiry within French history. A decade on, there is a well-established and growing body of research on the ideologies and discourses of French empire, political and cultural influences between the colonies and metropolitan France, linkages between French and other empires, and the postcolonial legacies of French imperialism for colonizer and colonized alike. Seeking to further broaden this already diverse field, we invite contributions exploring the histories of French imperialism and colonialism “from below.”

Concern with the “subaltern” has long been central to colonial historians, while scholars working in the newer fields of world or global history have shown the power of writing history “from the bottom up” to shed new light on large-scale historical phenomena, including empire. In addition to making the complexities of empire legible, especially to students and non-specialists, such approaches also have the potential to illuminate the connected or entangled nature of colonial histories, and the ways that they were experienced and shaped by individuals and local communities across the French empire.

Proposals exploring “bottom-up” approaches to any aspect or period of French colonial history, including the postcolonial, are welcome. The editors are interested in submissions that focus on particular colonial territories but equally with articles that take transnational approaches or consider metropolitan France as an imperial space.

Although we expect most of the published contributions to be based on primary source materials, we also welcome theoretical and methodological articles that consider the opportunities and challenges, intellectual and practical, associated with writing colonial and postcolonial histories from below.

The editors particularly encourage submissions from early career researchers and scholars from under-represented groups.

Full manuscripts of 8000-10,000 words (including references), in either English or French, should be submitted by 1 September 2017 to the guest editors of the special issue, Claire Eldridge ( uk) and Jennifer Sessions ( Any enquiries regarding potential contributions should also be addressed to the guest editors.



Les rédacteurs de French History invitent des contributions pour un numéro spécial sur le thème des histoires coloniales françaises “par le bas” à paraître en automne 2019.

Depuis que French History a publié son premier numéro spécial consacré au passé colonial français en 2006, l’empire colonial est devenu un terrain d’étude privilégié pour les historiens de la France. Dix ans plus tard, il y a un corpus de recherches bien établi et croissant sur les idéologies et les discours de l’empire français, les influences politiques et culturelles réciproques entre les colonies et la France métropolitaine, les liens entre l’empire français et les autres empires coloniaux, et les legs postcoloniaux de l’impérialisme français pour le colonisateur autant que pour les colonisés. Cherchant à élargir encore un champ diversifié, nous invitons des contributions explorant l’histoire de l’impérialisme et du colonialisme français “par le bas”.

Les historiens du fait colonial se préoccupent depuis longtemps du “subalterne,” tandis que des chercheurs dans les domaines plus récents de l’histoire globale ont montré le pouvoir de l’histoire “par le bas” pour éclairer sous un jour nouveau des phénomènes historiques de grande échelle, y compris les empires coloniaux. De telles approches rendent lisibles les complexités des situations et des procéssus impériaux, surtout aux yeux des étudiants et des non-spécialistes. Elles peuvent également faire ressortir l’interconnexion et l’enchevêtrement des histoires coloniales ainsi que la façon dont celles-ci sont vécues et façonnées par des individus et des communautés locales à travers l’empire français.

Des propositions visant à explorer des approches “à ras du sol” de tout aspect ou période de l’histoire coloniale française, y compris la période postcoloniale, sont les bienvenues. Les rédacteurs sont intéressés par des articles qui se concentrent sur des territoires coloniaux particuliers mais également par ceux qui prennent des approches transnationales ou qui considèrent la métropole comme un espace impérial.

Bien que nous nous attendions à ce que la plupart des contributions publiées soient basées sur des sources primaires, nous accueillons aussi des articles avec une orientation théorique ou méthodologique accordant de l’attention aux défis intellectuels ou pratiques associés à l’écriture d’histoires coloniales et postcoloniales “par le bas”.

Les rédacteurs encouragent particulièrement des chercheurs en début de carrière et des chercheurs appartenant aux groupes sous-représentés dans l’université à soumettre des articles.

Les manuscrits complets de 8 000 à 10 000 mots (y compris les références), en anglais ou en français, doivent être soumis avant le 1er septembre 2017 aux rédacteurs invités du numéro spécial, Claire Eldridge ( et Jennifer Sessions ( Toutes les demandes de renseignements concernant les contributions potentielles peuvent également leur être adressées.


French colonies, intellectuals and far-right ideas

Gavid Bowd talks about his article ‘Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo, Charles Maurras and colonial Madagascar’ 24:1 (2016)

What does this article tell your readers about modern and contemporary France?

The article attempts to show the influence of far right ideas on an intellectual in a French colony. Normally, Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo and other francophone writers are presented as being in resistance to colonial rule and, implicitly at least, on the left, ‘progressive’ side of the political spectrum. But Rabearivelo’s political affinities were with Charles Maurras and L’Action française, although this did not prevent him from criticising French policy in Madagascar and expressing solidarity with oppressed people of colour in the British and French Empires as well as the United States. The aristocratic, anti-democratic and even racist tendencies of Rabearivelo are not unique: Maurras greatly influenced Ferhat Abbas in Algeria and Gerard de Catalogne in Haiti. So I attempt to give the reader a sense of the complexity of Rabearivelo – the first major writer of la Francophonie – and, by extension, of other colonised intellectuals. I hope also that it adds to the historical understanding of colonial and post-colonial Madagascar.

What topics and issues do you address? How does your argument build upon or differ from previous arguments in the field?

Firstly, I attempt to give an idea of Maurras’s ideology and, in particular, Action française’s attitude towards the Empire during the Third Republic they so detested. Connected to this is the big debate about assimilation and association of colonial subjects, Maurras and Rabearivelo being in favour of the latter. I was particularly stimulated by Martins Steins’s 1981 doctoral thesis on the ideological antecedents of negritude, which shows how much Leopold Senghor was influenced by another far right thinker, Maurice Barres, and was warmly received in the pages of Action francaise. By showing the ‘blood and soil’ element at work in what Sartre called ‘un racisme anti-raciste’, Steins broke a taboo. His thesis was never published. Like a moth to a post-colonial flame, I decided to apply this approach to Madagascar’s national poet.

What kinds of methodologies did you use?

I draw upon the National Archives of Madagascar in Antananarivo, the Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer in Aix-en-Provence and the papers of Rabearivelo’s surviving family. To this are added the French and Malagasy press of the time – thankfully conserved by Gallica – and the two-volume Oeuvres completes recently published by Présence Africaine and the CNRS. So the ‘methodology’ is both document and literature-based. The research was kindly supported by the Carnegie Trust.

How did you become interested in Rabearivelo?

I was initiated to Rabearivelo’s excellent work – and tortured world – when invited to take part in a multilingual translation workshop at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, in December 2013. We concentrated on Rabearivelo – un passeur de langues par excellence – and hope to bring out soon a translation of his poetry into English, Afrikaans, Malagasy, Creole and Bantu. I felt that some critical work remained to be done on neglected aspects of Rabearivelo, most notably his political views and ambivalent relationship with the colonial administration, as well as the endless debates over the meaning of his suicide in 1937 at the tender age of 34. Was he un suicidé de la société coloniale or just yet another of the poètes maudits he worshipped? Or both, and/or more? I am currently writing up my research in monograph form.


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