La racialisation des Africains re?cits commerciaux, religieux, philosophiques et litte?raires, 1480-1880 /

by 1974- Me?devielle, Nicolas P.

Abstract (Summary)
This project examines the progressive racialisation of Africans by French authors during the four centuries of contact between Sub-Saharan Africa and France that eventually produced one of the two largest colonial empires in Africa. Racialisation refers to the historical process by which it became possible for French people to think of Africans not as human beings, but as creatures so far removed from themselves that they could be construed as substandard beings, akin to animals and monsters. The project starts with the examination of several mid-sixteenth century documents: a book published in 1559, entitled Les voyages aventureux de Jean Alfonse, Sainctongeois; and a series of maps of Africa appearing in a 1547 Norman publication known as The Vallard Atlas (H.M.29). This first chapter shows that the figure of race, and hence the process of racialisation, is not yet pertinent in French descriptions of Africans. Although these documents are largely forgotten today (the Voyages has not been republished since 1610), by carefully retracing the social milieu in which the books circulated and ii reconstructing an image of the maritime links between Africa and France prior to 1550, we can conclude that the documents had a wide enough audience to be deemed representative of the literature of the time. The second chapter proceeds in a very different fashion. Instead of focusing on a few key texts, we show how the context of colonial slavery dating back to the beginning of the Enlightenment period led to a style of thought about Africans that is distinctly pre-racial. To this end, we examine the evolution of the word “race” from its earliest appearance in the late fifteenth century until its modern meaning emerges throughout the first part of the eighteenth century. Finally, we look at the work of three important representatives of the French Enlightenment - Montesquieu, Buffon and Voltaire - to show how this style of thought influenced their views of Africans. Montesquieu comes to endorse the practice of colonial enslavement of Africans, who are constructed as savages living in climates that predispose them to be slaves; Buffon, although he emphasizes the oneness of humankind, nevertheless presents Africans as having degenerated from full humanity; Voltaire, who endorses polygenesis, considers them as a separate human species, situated among the lowest strata of humankind, not too far from Apes. The third chapter, devoted to the years 1860-1890, is narrower in scope: it focuses on one novel by Jules Verne and a series of short stories by Maupassant, read in light of nineteenth-century raciology. It is first argued that the nascent anthropology progressively established “race” at its core during the first part of the century. The raciology reached full force during the period 1860-1890, when iii Verne and Maupassant wrote. However, for these authors, the African Race has little to do with the pseudo-scientific constructions of the time. The figure of the African in their texts is largely mythological, oscillating between the image of the cannibal and that of the savage, even though, on some occasions, their works have recourse to scientific images to heighten their rhetorical impact. Ultimately, Verne and Maupassant use African figures mostly to express fears and concerns about European society itself, the African serving as a totem to refer to whomever these authors dread or want to vilify – be they Germans, working -class people, farmers, or women. The literary construction of race is therefore autonomous from the pseudo-scientific one, but they both embody the heightened state of racialisation of Africans during this period. iv
Bibliographical Information:


School:The Ohio State University

School Location:USA - Ohio

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:maupassant guy de verne jules montesquieu charles secondat buffon georges louis leclerc alfonse jean race in literature slavery africa


Date of Publication:

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