Dr Berny Sèbe Maîtrise (Aix-en-Provence), D.Phil (Oxon), FRHistS, FRGS, FHEA

Dr Berny Sèbe

Department of Modern Languages
Senior Lecturer in colonial and post-colonial studies

Contact details

Ashley Building
Room 305
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

My research interests revolve around the colonial and post-colonial encounters between European and non-European worlds, in particular in the cultural and political realms. My recent works look at the making of imperial heroes in Britain and France since the era of 'New imperialism' (second half of the nineteenth century), the history of the conquest and decolonization of the Sahara, Franco-African relations since the Second World War as well as the 'Echoes of Empire' which resonate in the European project. I also engage regularly in comparative studies of French, British and Spanish imperialisms.


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) until I joined the University of Birmingham in 2008.


I teach a range of modules on the political and social history of the Francophone world for the Modern Languages Department. For instance, I teach a final-year option on ‘Franco-African relations from de Gaulle to Sarkozy’ and I contribute to the teaching of core modules in Modern Languages, exploring the role of the Francophonie in the world. I also contribute to the teaching of the ‘Cinema, Media and Visual Culture’ module, with sessions on memory documentaries and Francophone postcolonial film.

At postgraduate level, I am the Programme co-lead of the MA in Colonial and Postcolonial Studies which I have developed together with my colleague Dr Louise Hardwick. I teach the MA module 'Before postcolonialism: Europe and its empires', and convene and teach on the co-taught module 'World literature and film I'.

I am involved in the supervision of several PhD students (see below under 'postgraduate supervision'), and have successfully supervised two PhD students.

Postgraduate supervision

I am happy to offer postgraduate research supervision in the following fields:

Colonial and Postcolonial Studies
British and French imperial history
Decolonisation and the End of Empire
Colonial memory
Nineteenth and Twentieth French History

I supervise or co-supervises MA dissertation students in the above mentioned areas, and perform the role of PhD supervisor for several PhD theses:

Dunya Ismael (as lead supervisor): ‘Retro-cultural translation: neutralising cultural capital accumulation and power balance in the context of post-2003 Iraq’
Ann Kiatkowski (as lead supervisor), ‘Les Filles du Roi: Gender and Migration in French North America’
Sam Antony Kocheri Clement (as lead supervisor): ‘Benevolent Proselytes or Disguised Imperialists? Cultural Imperialism and Missionary Activities in India 1813–1900’
Sonia Lamrani (as lead supervisor): ‘Self-Orientalism in the Post-colonial novel’
Mouna Lekkal (as lead supervisor): ‘Representation of the Algerian War of Independence in the British Media: the BBC, the FLN and decolonisation’
Sarah Mechkarini (as lead supervisor): ‘Alienation and Identity in Anglophone and Francophone African Novels: Mouloud Mammeri’s Le Sommeil du juste, Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong'o’s The River Between, Assia Djebar’s L’Amour, la fantasia and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions’
Geoffrey Reis (as co-supervisor): ‘Desert voices: literary representations of the Sahara since the colonial period and beyond’
Degasian Rutherford (as lead supervisor): ‘Quasi-Ornamentalism in the Urban Landscape of Colonial Hong Kong: Appropriation, Imperial construction and Resistance, 1840 – Present.
Sarah Pymm (as co-supervisor): ‘L'aventure humaine: Spirituality, myth and power in the travel writings of Louise Weiss’
Sourour Salhi (as lead supervisor): ‘Towards a global appraisal of the African past: A Postcolonial Comparative Study of Franco-Algerian and Anglo-Nigerian Literatures from Subalternity to ‘Stable Hybridity’
Amina Zarzi (as lead supervisor): ‘The Representation of the Algerian Sahara desert in the French Colonial Imagination and its Resonance in the Expressions of Identity of Postcolonial Algerian Literature’
Completed theses:
Claire Peters, ‘Interdisciplinary approaches to the cultural memory of the Occupation and the Algerian War: Representations of the City in Modiano, Haneke and Maspero’ (September 2013
Sophie Tanniou, ‘Postcolonial Francophone Literature from West and Equatorial Africa: Colonial Heritage and Postcolonial Histories’ (July 2015).

Find out more - our PhD French Studies  page has information about doctoral research at the University of Birmingham.


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 and the multiple ways in which the colonial past still contributes to shaping he post-colonial present.

My book Heroic Imperialists in Africa: The Promotion of British and French Colonial Heroes, 1870-1939 looks 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 a follow-on project on the post-colonial reputation of European imperial heroes in Africa and in the former metropoles, which has given rise, among others, to a special issue of the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History (November 2014) and a book, Decolonising Imperial Heroes: Cultural Legacies of the British and French Empires (2016), co-edited with Max Jones, Bertrand Taithe and Peter Yeandle. I am also the co-investigator of the AHRC-funded 'Hero Project' 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.

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 (2015)

I am the Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded research project '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 (New College, Oxford) 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. This project has given rise to a high-impact circulating exhibition entitled Empire of Emptiness: Fortresses of the Sahara and the Steppe.

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.

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 have been a member of the AHRC's Peer Review College since 2012. 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 I co-ordinate the Postcolonial Birmingham research network, which I founded.

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

Other activities

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.).

I am also the Head of Internationalization for the School of Languages, Cultures, Art History and Music.


Recent publications


Sebe, B & Stanard, M (eds) 2020, Decolonising Europe? Popular Responses to the End of Empire. Empire and the Making of the Modern World, 1650-2000, 1st edn, Routledge, London. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429029363

Sebe, B, Jones, M, Taithe, B & Yeandle, P (eds) 2016, Decolonising Imperial Heroes: Cultural Legacies of the British and French Empires. Routledge.


Sèbe, B 2023, 'Brexit and the ‘Imperial Factor’: A longue durée Approach to British Exceptionalism ', The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, vol. 51, no. 5, pp. 1048-1076. https://doi.org/10.1080/03086534.2023.2262317

Sebe, B 2021, 'Brexit and Empire: The role of colonial nostalgia in the argument for ‘Global Britain’', Халықаралық қатынастар және халықаралық құқық сериясы, vol. 93, no. 1, pp. 16-24. https://doi.org/10.26577/IRILJ.2021.v93.i1.02

Sebe, B 2021, '‘Showcasing empire’ past & present or a brief history of popular imperialism, from Britannia to Brexit', Cahiers Victoriens & Edouardiens, vol. 2021, no. 93. https://doi.org/10.4000/cve.9144

Sebe, B 2021, '从后殖民主义到国际化国家建设——二十一世纪非洲的英法“帝国英雄”(下)', 亚非研究, pp. 195-216.

Sebe, B 2020, '从后殖民主义到国际化国家建设——二十一世纪非洲的英法“帝国英雄”(上)', 亚非研究, pp. 27-44. <https://global.cnki.net/kcms/detail/detail.aspx?dbcode=CCJD&filename=YFYJ202001002&dbname=CCJDLAST2>

Sebe, B 2015, 'Conquérir le désert et organiser le vide: Elements de réflexion sur les fortifications, outil de contrôle des espaces sahariens', Mondes et cultures, vol. LXXV, no. 1-2-3-4, pp. 240-58.

Chapter (peer-reviewed)

Sebe, B 2020, Colonial Heroes. in C Forsdick, L Moudileno & E Achille (eds), Postcolonial Realms of Memory: Sites and Symbols in Modern France. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, pp. 298-306. https://doi.org/10.3828/liverpool/9781789620665.003.0027

Sebe, B 2020, Joseph Peyré en contexte: La « Saharomanie » française du XIXe siècle aux indépendances. in D Thion, C Manso & P Peyré (eds), Joseph Peyré l'Africain. L'Harmattan, Paris , pp. 219.

Sebe, B 2019, Cross-cultural memory in postcolonial contexts: European imperial heroes in twenty-first-century Africa. in D Göttsche (ed.), Memory and Postcolonial Studies: Synergies and New Directions. Cultural Memories, vol. 9, Peter Lang, pp. 75-102. https://doi.org/10.3726/b14024

Sebe, B 2019, MacKenzie-ites without borders: or how a set of concepts, ideas and methods went global. in S Barczewski & M Farr (eds), The MacKenzie Moment and Imperial History: Essays in Honour of John M. MacKenzie. Palgrave Macmillan.

Sebe, B 2018, Les forts sahariens au XIXe siècle: Montrer la puissance dans le désert. in W Bruyère-Ostells & P Louvier (eds), Armes et Relations Internationales. Presses Universitaires de Rennes, pp. 60-85.

Entry for encyclopedia/dictionary

Sebe, B 2016, Assimilation and Empire. in The Encyclopedia of Empire. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118455074.wbeoe297

Sebe, B 2016, Languages and Empire. in J MacKenzie (ed.), Encyclopedia of Empire. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118455074.wbeoe368

View all publications in research portal


European imperialisms in Africa; historical, political and contemporary issues relating to North and West Africa; the Middle East ,especially the Arab Spring and its consequences; crises in the Sahel region of West Africa involving the Tuareg and the Tubu populations,Northern Mali in particular; French history, politics and current affairs;  history of the British Empire since the early nineteenth century; popular imperialism in Europe, the memory of colonialism and postcolonialism.

Languages and other information

  • French
  • Spanish

Media experience

Berny has been a prominent media commentator on the Arab Spring, writing a number of articles on the political and social implications of the wave of revolution across North Africa and the Middle East.

Alternative contact number available for this expert: contact the press office


European imperialisms in Africa; historical, political and contemporary issues relating to North and West Africa; the Middle East, especially the Arab Spring and its consequences; crises in the Sahel region of West Africa involving the Tuareg and the Tubu populations,Northern Mali in particular; French history, politics and current affairs;  history of the British Empire since the early nineteenth century; popular imperialism in Europe, the memory of colonialism and postcolonialism.