Heroic Imperialists in Africa: the promotion of British and French colonial heroes, 1870-1939

Wednesday 15 January 2014 (17:00-19:00)

From David Livingstone to Charles de Foucauld, from Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza to General Gordon, from the ‘Sirdar’ Kitchener to Jean-Baptiste Marchand, these standard-bearers of the ‘civilising mission’, armed with Bible or rifle, often both, became widely celebrated in their metropoles, with their exploits splashed across the front pages of the penny press, inspiring generations of biographers, painters and, later, film-makers.

At this talk, Berny Sèbe presents and discusses his new book, which explores in comparative perspective the ways in which heroes of the British and French empires in Africa were selected, manufactured and packaged from the height of ‘New Imperialism’ until the Second World War. He uncovers the media processes and publishing stories behind the legends of a dozen imperial heroes on both sides of the Channel, offering a comprehensive analysis of a phenomenon which was at the heart of popular imperialism. For all their now-transparent biases and shortcomings, these icons of a bygone age provide us with a fascinating insight into the mechanisms of hero-making in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Britain and France.