Imperial Myth as a National Idea: Explicit and Hidden Meanings of the 1931 International Colonial Exhibition in Paris

Publication type Article
Status Published
Institute of World History RAS
Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences RAS
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow
Journal nameISTORIYA

The article presents an analysis of the colonial exhibition of 1931 in the context of the metamorphosis of the colonial idea in France. After the First World War, the difficulties in managing the colonies were increasingly felt in France. The French political class hoped to give new vitality to the national consciousness, which was threatened by various social-revolutionary and anti-colonial movements, through the reform of colonial policy. The colonial exhibition of 1931 became the apogee of imperial propaganda in the metropolis and a symbol of unity between the Third Republic with its colonies. Its success was associated with the extent to which the colonial idea penetrated French society and with the stabilization of the mother country's relations with her colonies between the two world wars. The colonial discourse of the 1931 exhibition was an apology for republican centrism expressed through the firm positioning of racial superiority, the demonstration of the validity of the ideals of progress inevitably brought about by colonization, and the dominance of French values. The author demonstrates that the new political situation that developed after the Great War contributed to the achievement of colonial consolidation, on the part of the majority of parties and, mainly, through the deployment of the state propaganda machine. The colonies and the colonial question marked the outlines, the brushstrokes, as it were, of a national union. This union between the national and the colonial, the nation and the empire, was twofold. Between the two world wars, national and colonial issues became logically interlinked and interdependent. The author concludes that the 1931 exhibition propagated the idea of the imperial order through the display and presentation of idealized indigenous cultures represented by a variety of artifacts, fine arts, and architecture. The 1931 exhibition became a general imperial holiday, and was intended to serve the unity between the imperial centre and the colonies. It became an important tool of imperial construction, a fairly effective means of broadcasting the official imperial ideology, and a metaphor for the colonial republic, which embodied the cultural, social, and mental characteristics of the imperial nation; its hidden meaning was directed against the growing ideas of colonial nationalism and resistance.

KeywordsFrance, Third Republic, republican centrism, colonialism, colonial idea, colonial culture, colonial exhibition, imperial myth, imperial propaganda, ideas of superiority
Publication date19.07.2021
Number of characters36628
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