Les hasards de l'histoire ont tour a tour fait et defait l'unite politique de cette ile de l'Occident, l'Empire romain, l'Empire byzantin, l'Empire arabe l'ont realisee; mais chaque fois les invasions brutales sont venues demolir l'oeuure des peuples coloni-sateurs. La derniere de ces invasions, celle des Turcs, n'avait seme que le desordre, la discorde et la ruine; une multitude de puissances locales apparut, formidable feodalite qui a dure quatre siecles, obstacle a la civilisation et au progres moderne...
Ozouf and Ozouf
Lectures Geographiques (1938)
While the origins of French colonialism are found in the sixteenth century, the period from 1871 to 1920 was one of sudden, dramatic expansion in Africa and Asia. What had been scattered mercantile and military holdings became, in only half a century, an enormous and complex imperial system. An impetus for this expansion was an interest in colonial matters taken up by the French governing class. The stance of the French colonists as we find it in the quote above strongly reflects the spirit of the temps moderne: to move toward a progressive future, but all the while conscious of the vicissitudes of history.
Colonial societies were founded in the late nineteenth century, designed to promote and encourage colonial interests and to provide a place for members to meet, study, and discuss matters relating to the Empire. Out of the movement was born the Union Coloniale Française, a private learning center founded by French trading firms with colonial interests in 1893. The center was utilized by scholars and researchers and was host to visiting lecturers, conferences, and international dinners.
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