Colonial Logics: Agricultural, Commercial, & Moral Experiments in the Making of French Senegal, 1763-1870
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This dissertation examines the development of French colonial practices in northern Senegambia between 1763 and 1870 to explain the colony of Senegal’s transition from a series of small trading posts to a territory brought under French administration by military conquest. It bridges the divide between the first and second French overseas empires to examine an understudied period in French imperial history. The dissertation argues that experimentation and failure on the local level, rather than a coherent doctrine applied from above, drove the elaboration of successive colonial logics. By identifying the role of creative failure in the making of French Senegal in the nineteenth century, the dissertation shows how the failure of particular colonial logics and the elaboration of new ones traced both the possibilities and limitations of colonial rule going forward. The dissertation identifies three overlapping colonial logics that culminated in a colonial discourse and practice that prefigured the late-nineteenth-century French military conquest of much of West Africa. When the French returned to Senegal in 1817 after a period of British rule, they drew on proposals and models from the previous half century to formulate settlement and plantation schemes that reflected an agricultural colonial logic. As a result of the failure of these schemes in the late 1820s, colonial practices coalesced around a commercial logic, the failure of which in turn justified a military logic that emphasized conquest, administrative development, and infrastructural projects. By examining travel accounts, colonial policy, administrative correspondence, missionary writing, and other sources, this dissertation demonstrates how colonial knowledge was constructed on the ground by colonial administrators, merchants, naturalists, engineers, and missionaries. Missionaries have often been overlooked in histories of French imperialism; this dissertation shows that they played an important role in formulating colonial logics and defining the notion of “civilization.” Missionaries developed their own moral visions for the colony, though their goals often intersected with the administration’s goals of promoting agriculture and commerce. This dissertation adds to understandings of the French civilizing mission by showing the shifting meanings of “civilization” in the nineteenth century.