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Famine, Sovereignty, and the Question of Responsibility in the French Empire

When: Tuesday, November 12, 2019
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM Central

Where: 1800 Sherman Avenue, 3029, Evanston, IL 60201 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Elizabeth Morrissey  

Group: Equality Development and Globalization Studies (EDGS)

Category: Lectures & Meetings


EDGS Research Talk

Yan Slobodkin, Postdoctoral Fellow, Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, University of Chicago. 

Ensuring subsistence is universally accepted as one of the fundamental obligations of state and society toward individuals, perhaps even their raison-d’être. But this self-evident moral consensus has a history – one bound up in the dynamics of dominance and difference that characterized modern colonialism. This talk will examine changing ideas of famine in the French Empire from 1867-1945 to explore the relationship between colonial governance, nutrition science, and modern sovereignty, forms of responsibility not generally considered as sharing a genealogy. First, it will demonstrate how famine went from being considered an act of god or a natural disaster to being a social and political problem under the purview of the colonial state. It will then go into greater detail about one explanation for the increasing sense of state responsibility for colonial famine by tracing the development of the science of nutrition in the first half of the twentieth century. Finally, it will argue that during the Second World War, responsibility for famine became intertwined with sovereignty itself, setting the stage for a shift in an international ethics rooted in imperial civilizing missions to one based on international humanitarianism. 

Yan Slobodkin is a historian of modern Europe, with a focus on French colonial and transnational history. His current book project is a history of famine in 19th- and 20th-century North Africa, West Africa, and Southeast Asia, and its relationship to changing ideas of scientific control, political obligation, and humanitarian ethics. He received his Ph.D. in history from Stanford University and his B.A. in history and French from Oberlin College. 

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