Teaching the Empire (P. Singaravélou)

French colonial history is most often approached through the prism of relations of domination, notably the conquest and then the exploitation of territories and colonized populations. The postcolonial studies, supposed to deconstruct the East / West relationship, if they allowed to give a new look at colonization, also displayed their limits by tending to essentialize the West. The work by Pierre Singaravélou, Teach the Empire (Publications de la Sorbonne), aims to go beyond these debates and study colonization through the social sciences, by addressing the question of "colonial sciences".

Pierre Singaravélou, specialist in colonial history

The author is a lecturer at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and, notes the review The story, he multiplies the projects, as shown by the launch of the review World (s). Pierre Singaravélou is in fact interested not only in colonial history, but more broadly in world history and counterfactual history. We owe him in particular The Empire of Geographers. Geography, exploration and colonization (Belin, 2008), or more recently (in collaboration with J-F. Klein and M-A. De Suremain), The Atlas of Colonial Empires: 19th-20th centuries (Otherwise, 2012). The book that interests us here, Teach the Empire. Colonial sciences in France under the Third Republic (Publications de la Sorbonne, 2011), is taken from his doctoral thesis defended in 2007.

A social history of colonial sciences under the Third Republic

In his preface, the historian Christophe Charle, research director of Pierre Singaravélou, presents the latter's work as the "Double ambition" to make a history of imperial society and "A history of disciplines and higher education through social and political history", thus breaking with historiographical and disciplinary habits.

The author himself, in his introduction, explains how he came to build "An unidentified object in the history of the social sciences". Pierre Singaravélou then presents "So-called colonial knowledge" in the context of the 19th century, and their place within the humanities of the time. Then, he makes a historiographical inventory of this question, placing his work in the perspective of Postcolonial and Subaltern studies, being itself closer to the Cultural and Sciences studies, and calling to "a social and intellectual history of colonial knowledge". Pierre Singaravélou presents his study as focusing on "The social history of colonial sciences [social sciences only] under the Third Republic [...], imperial turning point for French human sciences", and more specifically in "Colonial higher education".

"The institutionalization of colonial sciences"

The first part of the book is a comprehensive presentation of the "colonial sciences" and their implementation in higher education in the Third Republic. This part begins logically with a definition of what Pierre Singaravélou calls a "Indigenous category". Then comes the moment of creating the "Colonial humanities". Who says "colonial sciences" says professionalization, which the author develops in chapter 2 with "The imperial course of teachers", chapter which breaks with the received ideas according to Christophe Charle. The next chapter, "The Republic of Colonial Letters", shows how the "colonial sciences" and their teaching infuse into society, through networks, journals or the founding of the Academy of Colonial Sciences in 1923. This dissemination of "colonial sciences" does not, however, prevent "A crisis in colonial higher education in the interwar period", subject of the last chapter.

"The Empire of Science"

The second part of Teach the Empire wants, according to Pierre Singaravélou, "An intellectual history of colonial knowledge". For Christophe Charle, the historian here defends the thesis of colonial knowledge as "Intellectual space for innovation", and "[Corrects] in a decisive way the erroneous judgments made about these disciplinary branches to underline their dynamism and innovations". Thus, Pierre Singaravélou is interested in this part in "Colonial geography", wondering if this is a "Science of imperialism", as well as "The construction of colonial historiography under the Third Republic", to the "Sciences of colonial government", and finally to the "Colonial psychology".

“A colonial paradigm of the human sciences? "

In conclusion, Pierre Singaravélou asks himself the question of the possible colonial influence on the human sciences under the Third Republic. For this, it comes back for example on "the unity of colonial sciences", which concern all aspects of the social sciences by studying "Three contiguous objects: the native, the colony and the colonization". But as "Scientific microcosm", the "colonial sciences" are, according to the historian, marginalized in the university field, despite what they have been able to bring to the human sciences by opening them to other spaces. The author nevertheless concludes that "The Third Republic corresponds [to the" colonial moment "] of the history of the human sciences".

Finally, as Christophe Charle notes in the preface, and as Pierre Singaravélou suggests in his conclusion, a "History of the teaching of colonial sciences" Europe-wide could be the next avenue to explore, to show the differences, similarities and interactions between the academic systems of colonial nations.

Notice of History for all

Remarkable work, addressing a largely new field of research, Teach the Empire. Colonial sciences in France under the Third Republic, is a dense book that is not necessarily accessible to everyone, and whose richness cannot be taken into account in a simple summary. It is nonetheless essential, obviously for those interested in colonial history, but also for students preparing for teaching competitions and the question "Colonial societies in the age of empires: Africa, West Indies , Asia (1850s-1950s) ”. Pierre Singaravélou's book is certainly essential on the subject.

- P. Singaravélou, Teach the Empire. Colonial sciences in France under the Third Republic, Publications of the Sorbonne, 2011, 409 p.

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