The Historical Journal


Mission Civilisatrice’: French Cultural Policy in the Middle East, 1860–1914

Mathew Burrows

Mission civilisatnce was one of the bywords of French colonial expansion under the Third Republic. Unfortunately until now there have been few works devoted to its study. Indeed, the notion itself has not been taken very seriously by scholars. As long ago as 1960 when Henri Brunschwig published his seminal work on French colonialism, he stated quite categorically: ‘en Angleterre la justification humanitaire l'emporta’ while ‘en France le nationalisme de 1870 domina’ even if that nationalism ‘ne s'exprima presque jamais sans une mention de cette “politique indigène” qui devait remplir les devoirs du civilisé envers des populations plus arriérées.’ Since then academics both in France and outside have tended to concentrate (in what few works have been written on French colonialism) on the political and economic aspects of the French Empire to the detriment of its cultural components.