"Behind the Decorations at Vincennes:" Indochinese Activists against the 1931 French Colonial Exposition

CGS Brown Bag Lecture Series
Mar 20, 2019
12:15 PM to 01:15 PM
157 Burrowes

Elizabeth Tuttle, Penn State

In 1931, France held an elaborate colonial fair where patrons could visit a condensed version of the French empire in Paris’ park Vincennes. Organizers recreated indigenous dwellings and religious structures from across the empire in order to celebrate the state’s vision of a “greater France.” In its six-month run, the colonial exposition attracted millions of visitors from Paris, France’s provinces, and beyond. Even with such popular and financial success, there were still groups who spoke out against this celebration of the French imperial project. In particular, Indochinese militants, often working with French Communist Party members, protested inhumane conditions for colonial workers both in the colonies and at the fair in Vincennes. How did these activists spread their message? Who was their audience and to what extent were they successful in countering governmental propaganda? To answer these questions, Tuttle will analyze official surveillance documents as well as the tracts and pamphlets written and distributed by Indochinese militants during the run-up to the fair’s opening. Ultimately, Tuttle argues that the 1931 colonial exposition became an ideological battleground between colonial administrators and a small number of activists determined to change public opinion by exposing the violence at the heart of French colonialism.

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