I am an historian of modern Europe and European imperialism with a particular interest in political, cultural, and social history, as well as the history of humanitarianism. My first book, An Empire Divided: Religion, Republicanism, and the Making of French Colonialism, 1880-1914 (Oxford University Press, 2006) tells the story of how troubled relations between Catholic missionaries and a host of republican critics shaped colonial policies, Catholic perspectives, and domestic French politics in the decades before the First World War. Based on archival research from four continents, the book challenges the long-held view that French colonizing and “civilizing” goals were the product of a distinctly secular republican ideology built on Enlightenment ideals. By exploring the experiences of religious workers, one of the largest groups of French men and women working abroad, the book argues that many “civilizing” policies were wrought in the fires of discord between missionaries and anti-clerical republicans – discord that indigenous communities exploited in responding to colonial rule.
My current project, entitled Humanity So Far Away: Violence, Humanitarianism, and Rights in the Modern French Empire, places the successes and failures of colonial “civilizing” projects within the broader context of the development of European sensibilities regarding violence, global suffering, and human rights. Based on research in archives on five continents, Humanity So Far Away explores the central role human suffering played as an experience, a moral concept, and a political force in the rise and fall of French imperialism from the late 1800s to the 1960s. The book also considers how colonial practices increasingly intersected with efforts to establish norms of humane behavior – efforts most often led by non-state and international bodies, especially the League of Nations and the International Labor Organization. Drawing on the methods of political, cultural, and intellectual history, my research ultimately aims to explore concretely the extent to which notions about empathy and humanitarianism spread (or failed to spread) from Europe to the outermost reaches of the globe in the twentieth century.