History

Special Subject: The French Empire and Its Aftermath

Module code: V1433
Level 6
30 credits in autumn & spring teaching
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework, Unseen examination

The French Empire and its Aftermath is a special subject history module studied over the whole of the third year. You tackle some of the core problems of history and historical research through a detailed examination of the impact and aftermath of French Empire since 1912 in both in France and the former colonies. You work with primary source documents every week, supplemented by readings of specialised and detailed secondary literature. This course explores the complexities of visual source material (paintings, posters, photographs, film) and how these different 'ways of seeing' can be used to understand colonialism and post-colonialism. At this level, you'll be expected to:

  • be proactive in learning situations
  • present your ideas orally and in written form with a high level of skill
  • demonstrate an ability to construct arguments and lead debates.  

We examine the global impact of the French Empire and its many complex aftermaths. The starting point is the annexation of Morocco in 1912 and how it was justified in terms of the French 'civilising mission'. Using a variety of primary sources, the module will analyse the motivations (economic, racial, cultural, nationalist) for empire as well as the impact of this expansion on French society (e.g. how notions of the exotic 'other' were used within modernist painting or to construct ideas around racial hierachies). We assess the impact of colonialism on the colonies themselves, analysing the various ways these societies reacted to the French 'civilising mission'. The module is grounded in theories of empires, addressing questions of how they begin, rule and end as well as their many aftermaths.  

Geographically the focus is on particular case studies (Indochina, Morocco and Senegal) examining how colonial rule played out on the ground. It will situate the French Empire globally, in relation to other empires as well as analysing the impact of World War One, World War Two, decolonisation and post-colonialism. A key feature of the module is a detailed assessment of the high point of the French Colonial Empire: the 1931 Colonial Exhibition in Paris. You will also explore the experience of black American artists and intellectuals – Josephine Baker, Miles Davis, Richard Wright – who were attracted to France because it was perceived as less racist than the USA. It will also analyse the perspectives of anti-colonial intellectuals such as Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, and Sembene Ousmane. The course invites students to consider transnational and comparative perspectives in relation to race, class, gender and empire.

Module learning outcomes

  • Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of a closely defined topic.
  • Situate, evaluate and analyse primary historical sources.
  • Relate the interpretation of primary sources to secondary interpretations.
  • Construct sophisticated written arguments that demonstrate intellectual maturity and integrity.