French Colonial Histories From Below
Jennifer Sessions, Claire Eldridge, ‘French Colonial Histories From Below’, in French History, Vol. 32, N°4, 2019, pp. 463–470
In exploring ‘French colonial histories from below’, this special issue draws together the overlapping concerns of colonial historians and practitioners of history from below with the experiences, perspectives, and historical agency of groups subordinated by the dominant structures of capitalism and empire. ‘History from below’ has, of course, a distinguished tradition among historians of metropolitan France. Whether inspired by the British Marxists or the French Annales school, the desire to salvage the histories of the anonymous, often illiterate masses of French peasants, workers and menu peuple has given rise, since the late 1970s, to a rich and varied body of work that encompasses quantitative analyses of popular politics, reconstructions of working-class and peasant mentalités and microhistorical accounts of particular people or places.1 French historians interested in everything from daily life in a medieval Pyrénéen village to the crowd in the French Revolution have long embraced what Lucien Febvre (one of several scholars credited with coining the term) described in 1932 as ‘history viewed from below and not from on high’.