Organizing Committee: Prof. Gregory Mann, Prof. Emmanuelle Saada, Madeline Woker
Co-sponsored by ISERP (Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy), the Maison Française, the Department of History and the Heyman Center for the Humanities
The “colonial turn” considerably transformed the field of French history and led to the publication in the last 30 years of a large number of scholarly contributions concerned with the cultural, political, legal, and social aspects of French colonialism. Meanwhile, the political economy of the French colonial empire has received far less attention.
The 2008 financial crisis triggered renewed interest in the history of capitalism and economic history more generally, and we are now witnessing the effects of these changes in the field of French colonial history. This conference thus seeks to bring together a new generation of historians and economists who have recently published, or are about to publish, important contributions to the economic history of the French formal and informal empires. The conference does not seek to celebrate the “return” of concerns that were central in the 1970s but rather to better delineate the contours of a new momentum.
Jacques Marseille’s 1984 groundbreaking book Empire colonial et capitalisme français. Histoire d’un divorce (re-edited in 2005) popularized the idea that colonialism had in fact been a “bad deal” for France and that it delayed the modernization of French capitalism. This thesis of a costly and inefficient empire is now under serious revision by both economists and historians. Furthermore, while the cost-benefit analysis was once central to economic histories of empire, time has come to diversify our approaches. Economists at the Paris School of Economics are currently writing a new quantitative history of French colonialism which promises to yield trailblazing results useful to researchers across various disciplines. In parallel, a growing number of historians of France and its empire are turning to the study of “economic life” and thus considerably enriching our knowledge of the economic repercussions of Haitian independence, the deployment of capital in the French “informal empire” of the mid-19th century, and the circulation, production, and consumption of commodities in the French empire across centuries. Others are reassessing the politics of colonial capitalism during the interwar period, the workings of development ideology, and the politics of taxation and inequality in territories under French colonial rule in Africa and Asia. Finally, some have sought to revisit the economic dimension of decolonization, the intersection of racial ideologies with the political economy of late colonialism, and the links between decolonization and the expansion of tax havens.
We expect to attract a large audience of scholars based in the broader New York metropolitan area interested in imperial history, the political economy of empire broadly construed, the history of capitalism, and development economics.