Invisible Empires: Colonial Commodities, Capitalism, and the Making of the Modern French Self, 1750-1970
My current book project, Invisible Empires: Colonial Commodities, Capitalism, and the Making of the Modern French Self, 1750-1970 examines the colonial foundations of modern industrial capitalism in France. The project takes up an old historiographical question, namely: what role did the French empire play in the development of French capitalism? Scholars have generally sought to answer this question through intellectual discourses, quantitative measures, investment flows, institutions like banks, or the development of key industries.1 Invisible Empires, in contrast, seeks to answer this question by looking at how empire, and particularly colonial commodities and the colonial laborers who produced them, helped to shape the senses, sensibilities and subjectivities of French metropolitans in ways that provided the cognitive and perceptual frameworks that naturalized capitalism as an everyday practice and way of being, or habitus. My time in the Gustave Gimon Collection on French Political Economy at Stanford University Library will be used to examine one component of this project: the emergence and consolidation of conceptions of productive labor in the second half of the nineteenth-century.