Assimilation and Empire

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  • Format: Hardcover
  • Copyright: 2013-03-22
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press

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Assimilation was an ideology central to European expansion and colonisation, an ideology which legitimised colonisation for centuries. Assimilation and Empire shows that the aspiration for assimilation was not only driven by materialistic reasons, but was also motivated by ideas. The engine of assimilation was found in the combination of two powerful ideas: the European philosophical conception of human perfectibility and the idea of the modern state. Europeans wanted to create, in their empires, political and cultural forms they valued and wanted to realise in their own societies, but which did not yet exist.

Saliha Belmessous examines three imperial experiments - seventeenth- and eighteenth-century New France, nineteenth-century British Australia, and nineteenth and twentieth-century French Algeria - and reveals the complex inter-relationship between policies of assimilation, which were driven by a desire for perfection and universality, and the greatest challenge to those policies, discourses of race, which were based upon perceptions of difference.

Neither colonised nor European peoples themselves were able to conform to the ideals given as the object of assimilation. Yet, the deep links between assimilation and empire remained because at no point since the sixteenth century has the utopian project of perfection - articulated through the progressive theory of history - been placed seriously in question. The failure of assimilation pursued through empire, for both colonised and coloniser, reveals the futility of the historical pursuit of perfection.

Author Biography

Saliha Belmessous is a Senior Research Fellow in history at the University of New South Wales, Australia. She studied in France and Canada and has held research positions in the USA and Australia.

Table of Contents

Part I: Assimilation in early-modern French America: from francisation to racialism
1. French colonial justifications
2. Francisation as New France's founding project
3. Defining French distinctiveness in seventeenth-century France
4. Implementing francisation
5. The emergence of race in French political imagination
6. Conclusion
Part II: Assimilation in the nineteenth-century British empire: the rule of law as an engine of civilisation
1. British colonial justifications
2. The colonial career of Saxe Bannister
3. Bannister's colonial philosophy
4. Bannister's civilising scheme for the Aborigines of the British Empire
5. Introducing the rule of law in the colonies
6. Building an empire by treaty
7. The outcomes of the assimilative project in the second half of the nineteenth century
8. Conclusion
Part III: Assimilation against colonialism: the struggle of the Muslim natives in French Algeria
1. French conquest of Algeria
2. Assimilation in French political culture
3. Assimilating Algeria to France
4. Assimilating the Muslim natives through the rule of French law
5. Assimilating the natives through education
6. The rise of racial politics
7. Assimilation in post-First World War Algeria
8. Assimilation in Algeria: the indigenous point of view
9. Conclusion
Conclusion: Assimilation in post-colonial societies

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