Promoting the Colonial Idea: Propaganda and Visions of Empire in France

Promoting the Colonial Idea: Propaganda and Visions of Empire in France

Promoting the Colonial Idea: Propaganda and Visions of Empire in France

Promoting the Colonial Idea: Propaganda and Visions of Empire in France

Synopsis

Challenging the notion that there was no "popular imperialism" in France, this book examines the importance of France's colonial role in the development of French society and culture after 1870. It assesses the impact of colonial propaganda on public attitudes and the relationship between imperialism, republicanism, and nationalism. It analyzes the representations of empire, traces the development of a colonial "science" and discusses the enduring importance of images and symbols of empire in contemporary France.

Excerpt

Isabelle Merle

New Caledonia, annexed by France in 1853, was the scene of an original experiment in settlement. It had been thought of as a possible territory for the ‘white race’ and throughout the second half of the nineteenth century it was subjected to a double process of immigration. The first was compulsory and, from 1864 to 1897, brought in thousands of prisoners condemned to hard labour, political deportation and banishment. They were supposed, once they had served their term in the penal settlement, to become honourable settlers on plots of land granted by the penal administration. The second was voluntary, comprising emigrants who, as was the case elsewhere, undertook the colonial venture in the hope of improving their lot and above all to acquire what at the time appeared to be the most valuable possession of all: land.

Over a period of 30 years, France sent about 30000 convicts of various types to the antipodes. Soon the ‘penal’ population – convicts and ex-convicts, some of them settled on granted land – made up the majority and was omnipresent on the island. The ‘free’ population, on the other hand, hardly increased, as the rate of voluntary immigration was low. The French do not emigrate very readily and did not find much to attract them in so remote an island populated by convicts and Kanaks. The latter were said to be fierce and cannibalistic.

The French metropolitan authorities did not share this view and saw New Caledonia as a highly promising country that should not be left, like Guyana, to convicts. Up to the end of the nineteenth century France tried to convince its citizens to go and settle in the archipelago. A particularly strong effort to this end was made during the last years of the century under pressure from the governor who had been appointed

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