I was born in Nice (Provence, France) and partly brought up in the Sahara desert, where I have been travelling since I was a child. For that reason, I was educated through the CNED (National Centre for Distance Learning, France). During that period, I became closely associated to the activities of my father, the French desert photographer and publisher Alain Sèbe, with whom I still regularly publish photographic books. I studied for my first degree (licence) and Master’s (maîtrise) at the University of Aix-en-Provence, and for my doctorate at the University of Oxford (D.Phil in Imperial and Commonwealth History). During my time there, I also organised the Oxford University Expedition to Mauritania. My first full-time academic position was at the university of Durham, where I was a lecturer in African and imperial history (2007-8).
I teach for both the French Department and the European Studies programme. In French, I teach a final-year option on ‘Franco-African relations from de Gaulle to Sarkozy’ and I contribute to the teaching of the ‘Cinema, Media and Visual Culture’, ‘Politics, Culture and Society’ and ‘France moderne’ modules. Some terms, I also teach prose to fourth-year students. For European Studies, I teach on, and am the convenor of, the first-year undergraduate module 'Approaches to European Cultures', and I teach on the first-year module 'Media, Culture and Communication' and on the second-year module ‘Cultural Theory: Analysis and Application’ and ‘European Media Culture’.
At postgraduate level, I am the Programme co-lead of the MA in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies. I have co-supervised several PhD students (see below under 'postgraduate supervision').
My research interests lie mainly in the history of nineteenth and twentieth century European imperialisms, decolonization and post-colonialism, with particular emphasis on the popular reception of imperialism and Empire-related subjects in the metropolitan centres.
My doctoral research looked at the processes of selection, construction and promotion of colonial heroes in Britain and in France between 1870 and the Second World War. It has led me to consider the variety of media which were used to promote the imperial idea in the metropolises, the networks of producers and systems of patronage which sustained them, and the reception of heroic propaganda by various types of audience. Drawing upon a variety of unpublished archives, it also analysed the various political, economic and individual interests which these cultural constructions served. This research has given rise to my book Heroic Imperialists in Africa: The Promotion of British and French Colonial Heroes, 1870-1939.
I also work on the legacy of Europe’s colonial past upon the EU and in its relations with the rest of the world. Developing comparative approaches to European imperialisms allows us to evaluate the extent to which colonial expansion stemmed from a core of shared assumptions and values while exacerbating political and economic rivalries, and how these conflicting roots and effects are negotiated in the post-colonial world against which the EU took shape. As part of this strand, I have co-edited with Kalypso Nicolaidis and Gabi Maas Echoes Of Empire: Memory, Identity and the Legacy of Imperialism.
I am the Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded research project (2012-15) 'Outposts of Conquest: the History and Legacy of the Fortresses of the Steppe and the Sahara in Comparative Perspective, from the 1840s to the present-day'. Through the case-study of colonial fortifications, this joint project with Alexander Morrison (Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan) analyses the strategies of conquest and administration of two Christian powers which encroached at roughly the same time into arid environments populated by predominantly Muslim nomads. More information on www.birmingham.ac.uk/forts.
I am the co-investigator of the AHRC-funded 'Hero Project' (2015-16), which explores and re-appraises the role of the hero in twenty-first century Britain. Working with Abbie Garrington (University of Newcastle, principal investigator) and Natasha Danilova (University of Aberdeen, co-investigator), I am particularly interested in the place of the British imperial hero in the post-colonial age.
On a more general level, I am interested in the history of Third- and Fourth-Republic France, and in Franco-British relations since the mid-nineteenth century. My next project looks at the practice and effects of colonial and post-colonial photography in Africa from the 1860s until the 1970s.
I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) and the Higher Education Academy, and I am a member of the AHRC's Peer Review College (2012-15). I am also a Member of the Board of the French charity La Rahla/Les Sahariens. In Birmingham, I am an active member of the FRANCOPOCO Network and of the Centre for Second World War Studies. I also co-ordinate the Postcolonial Birmingham initiative.
Areas of interest
British and French imperial history; decolonisation; post-colonialism
British and French popular imperialism
Comparative European colonialisms
History of the Sahara from 1880 to the present
Late modern French history; Franco-British relations
I regularly feature on regional, national and international radio and TV programmes, commenting on a range of topics related to French history and politics; European colonial and imperial history; post-colonialism; the history of West Africa and the Sahara as well as current events in the Middle East and North Africa (the so-called 'Arab Spring' and its aftermath: French interventions in Mali and the Central African Republic; the security situation in Libya and the Sahara, etc.).