RESIDENT FELLOW ELIZABETH HEATH TALKS ABOUT FRENCH COLONIAL MATERIALS IN THE WOLFSONIAN COLLECTION

It’s hard to believe that already a week has passed since our last residential fellow, Dr. Elizabeth Heath delivered a Powerpoint presentation to the Wolfsonian’s staff on the subject of “Colonialism and Everyday Life in Modern France.” And though she has already migrated North, her month-long fellowship here at The Wolfsonian served as an introduction to South Florida, for Dr. Heath has accepted a position as a professor of History at Florida International University this coming fall. Given her intellectual interests, and the fact that international and colonial exposition materials are a particular strength of the museum and library collections, we will not be saying “good-bye” so much as “à bientôt.”

Professor Heath’s talk last Friday covered more than a hundred years of French colonialism and used visuals from the collection to describe the transition from policies stressing assimilation and “integration” to those advocating segregation and “association.” Much of the evidence in her presentation had been drawn from the visual representation of France’s overseas empire at various world’s fairs and colonial exhibitions. She argued that in the mid-to-late nineteenth century expositions, colonial planners stressed the importance of extending French culture and the values of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” throughout the world.

GIFT OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA

In many of the earlier fairs, Dr. Heath noted that colonial exhibits and displays were centrally located and architecturally integrated into the national pavilions in the fairground plans.

LOANED BY MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR.

By the mid-20th century, however, colonial pavilions and colonial-themed expositions had moved to separate sections of the fairgrounds, or, as in the case of the 1931 Exposition Coloniale Internationale, to the periphery of the Parisian capital. Dr. Heath argued that even while French colonial planners never completely abandoned their efforts to proselytize and re-educate a colonial elite, the imagery used to promote these later exhibitions stressed the “exoticism” and otherness of the colonial peoples in general.

 

LOANED BY MITCHELL WOLFSON, JR.

 Native peoples brought to France to represent the colonies at the fair were alternatively treated as “exotics” to be gawked at, or as examples of the beneficial results of enlightened colonial education.

 

Even when some of these human exhibits were able to slip out of their traditional garb and into Parisian finery, the photographers implied that their attempts at cultural cross-dressing rendered them all the more fantastic and “exotic.”

~ by "The Chief" on July 6, 2012.

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