A Crisis in Paris: Xenophobia, Stigma, and Empire in France

Presenter: 

"Mon petit chien de guerre: Conflating Jewish and Homosexual Identity during the Dreyfus Affair," Cameron McKee, History and History of Art

Presenter2: 

"A New France?: Race, Class, and Gender in the Aftermath of World War I," Prof. Tyler Stovall, History

Date: 

Thu, Oct 4, 2012 - 4:00 pm to 5:30 pm

Location: 

691 Barrows

 

A Crisis in Paris: Xenophobia, Stigma, and Empire in France

Mon petit chien de guerre: Conflating Jewish and Homosexual Identity during the Dreyfus Affair
Cameron McKee, History and History of Art

The Dreyfus Affair, as the scandal came to be known, was sparked in 1894 when Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer, was accused of communicating confidential military documents to the German attaché. Dreyfus’s show trial and subsequent conviction on the basis of falsified documents engendered a violent storm of media that bifurcated France into the leftist Pro-Dreyfusards and the systematic, malicious anti-Semitism of the staunchly rightist Anti-Dreyfusards.

A metaphoric language developed around the Affair and Dreyfus’s purported treason came to symbolize an expansive dialogue of perceived anxieties plaguing fin-de-siècle France. Vitriolic debates surrounding Dreyfus’s guilt of innocence assumed overtones of French fears surrounding everything from the declining authority of the Catholic Church, to French military degeneration. In his research, McKee emphasizes the use of the Affair as a cultural framework through which French society questioned French manhood and attacked the developed gay inhabitants of Paris. It was Dreyfus’s subversive identity as a “foreign” Jewish-Alsatian man that allowed the Anti-Dreyfusard press to propagate an image of the Jewish male as the cause of French degeneration.

Theoretically rooted in writings on intersectionality, McKee centers his study of the period on political cartoons, contemporary medical texts, and other sources of popular imagery to address a conspicuous gap in the historiography of the Dreyfus Affair: the levying of homosexuality as a pathological, degenerative practice on the body of the Jewish male who threatened to subvert French patriarchal society. Supported by archival materials McKee’s study contextualizes the marginalized identities of Jewishness and homosexuality in fin-de-siècle France and their peculiar conflation during the Dreyfus Affair.

A New France?:  Race, Class, and Gender in the Aftermath of World War I
Prof. Tyler Stovall, History

 

During the first world war France mobilized both women and colonial subjects into its labor force to an unprecedented degree.  Members of both groups worked in heavy industry, specifically munitions plants, to a much greater extent than ever before.  With the end of the war in November 1918 French authorities had to decide whether or not to continue this experiment in diversity or to try to turn back the clock to a traditionally white and male labor force.  In general they opted for the latter strategy, seeing the presence of nonwhite and female laborers in the workforce as a temporary and undesirable legacy of the war.  The first half of 1919 consequently witnessed a major series of expulsions and repatriations with the goal of restoring the racial and gendered purity of the French working class.  

This presentation will consider this history of expulsion and the larger debates about French national identity that surrounded it.  It will explore the perspectives of French authorities, business, labor, and women and colonial workers themselves with regard to the expulsion of female and nonwhite labor.  It will consider the ways in which the experiences of these two groups resembled each other, as well as the ways in which they differed.  This process of expulsion succeeded in the short-term, but ultimately failed to turn back the clock.  Instead, I see this process of expulsion and the debates around it as a landmark in the rise of postcolonial France.