Top Young Historians: 81 – Eric Jennings


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

81: Eric Jennings, 1-21-08

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator Department of History, University of Toronto
Area of Research: Modern France, French colonialism, decolonization, and the francophone world.
Education: Ph.D. University of California at Berkeley, 1998
Major Publications: Jennings is the author of Curing the Colonizers: Hydrotherapy, Climatology, and French Colonial Spas (Duke UP, 2006); Vichy in the Tropics: Pétain’s National Revolution in Madagascar, Guadeloupe and Indochina, 1940-1944 (Stanford UP, 2001), winner of the 2001 Alf Heggoy Prize for best book on French Colonial History from the French Colonial Historical Society. French translation: Vichy sous les Tropiques: La Révolution nationale à  Madagascar, en Guadeloupe, en Eric T. Jennings JPGIndochine, 1940-1944 (Paris: Grasset, 2004). Jennings is also the Editor of a reader entitled French Colonial Indochina (Forthcoming, Nebraska University Press), and Co-editor, with Jacques Cantier, of a collective volume entitled L’Empire colonial sous Vichy, (Paris: Odile Jacob, 2004). His next research project is entitled “Cloning France in Highland Indochina, Dalat 1880-1954”.
Jennings is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including: “Colons, colonisés, ou emigrés? Enjeux identitaires de l’émigration depuis Saint- Pierre et Miquelon, 1903-1939” the Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine 54:4 (October-December 2007). “Writing Madagascar back into the Madagascar Plan” Holocaust and Genocide Studies, 21:2 (Fall 2007): 187-217; “Urban Planning, Architecture, and Zoning at Dalat, Indochina, 1900-1944” Historical Reflections (Summer 2007), special issue on French colonial urbanism; “Madagascar se souvient: les multiples visages du monument aux morts du Lac d’Anosy, Antananarivo” Outre-mers (formerly the “Revue d’histoire française d’histoire d’outre-mer”) 351 (2006), special issue on “Sites et moments de mémoire”: 123-140; “Conservative Confluences, ‘Nativist’ Synergy: Re-inscribing Vichy’s National Revolution in Indochina” French Historical Studies, special issue on “the New French Colonial History.” 27:3 (Summer 2004): 601-635; “Last Exit from Vichy France: The Martinique Escape Route and the Ambiguities of Emigration, 1940-1941” The Journal of Modern History 74 (June 2002): 289-324.
Awards: Jennings is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Canadian Institute for Health Research/ AMS/Hannah Grant in the History of Medicine (Priority Announcement), 2007-2008;
Joint Initiative in German and European Studies (University of Toronto) Faculty Research Award, 2006;
University of Toronto History Department SIG Grant, 2005;
Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Standard Research Grant (including RTS), 2004-2007;
Associated Medical Services, Inc/ Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine, Research Grant, 2004;
Joint Initiative in German and European Studies (University of Toronto) Faculty Research Award. Project on European colonial medical networks- research in London, 2003;
Associated Medical Services, Inc/ Hannah Institute for the History of Medicine, Research Grant, 2003;
Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Standard Research Grant, 1999-2003;
Declined: Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellowship, to have been held at Stanford; 1998-1999;
Mabelle McLeod Lewis Memorial Fund Fellowship Write-up fellowship for graduate students in the final year of their Ph.D., 1997-1998;
Franco-American Foundation Bicentennial Fellowship One of three fellowships awarded in North America for graduate students to undertake research in France, 1995-1996;
Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Doctoral Fellowship, 1993-1995.
Additional Info:
In May 2006 Jennings was invited to lead an intensive graduate seminar at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris.
Jennings was interviewed on the “New French Colonial History” with France Culture’s program “La Fabrique de l’Histoire.” was interviewed on French-language television to introduce the historical drama “Stavisky” on TFO, first aired January 23, 2001.
He is also an Advisor for W. W. Norton Co. on revisions to undertake for a second edition of John Merriman’s History of Modern Europe.

Personal Anecdote

I too considered sharing my first experiences at the magnificent Eiffel-style French national library in Paris, at a time when it still hired someone to wake readers up from their slumber, and when it featured a special section known as “hell” – the repository for racy books. In the end, it seemed incompatible with my new role as “young historian,” given that several generations of truly young researchers have now been working at the ultra-modern, concrete Bibliothèque nationale. Instead, I have decided to recount aspects of my trips to Madagascar, a country that has twice captured my attention, once in a study on the impact of the Vichy regime there, and more recently for a history of its main spa, Antsirabe.

Antsirabe is many places wrapped in one. The city boasts several industries, including a beer plant, textile works, and naturally, a mineral-water bottling facility. But it is also a sleepy bourgeois town, developed by the French around the turn of the twentieth century to remind the colonizers of home. Villas still bear romantic French titles, such as flower names, or the more vacation-oriented “mon repos.” The grand Hôtel terminus, also known as the Hôtel des thermes, has aged. Still evoking on its exterior Antsirabe’s ambitions of grandeur, it was renovated on the interior, no doubt in the seventies, with the latest appointments and goldenish carpeting. The train station sits atop a disproportionately wide boulevard, along which the colonizers were once pulled in rickshaws. How, I wondered after weeks working through dossiers on the spa in Madagascar’s national archives, how would the town look today, and how had the Malagasy come to view this quintessentially colonial site long after independence? More importantly for my hydrotherapy project, how if at all, had the spa’s function and image changed?

In the colonial era, my files showed, Antsirabe was considered a panacea against the island’s ills: malaria and other tropical diseases. The spa’s waters were analyzed at length by French and even Norwegian scientists, who posited its resemblance to other waters known for their malaria-fighting virtues: Vichy’s. Thus, colonials and colonized had thronged to the spa to seek both preventative and post-contraction cures against malaria. As I entered the spa building for the first time, I pondered postcolonial ruptures and continuities. For one thing, the spa had emerged as a more egalitarian site. Gone, obviously, were the divides between baths for Europeans and Malagasy. But gone too was the colonial specialization. A bilingual sign on the wall announced as follows the spa’s curative coverage: “liver disease, gastric ailments, diabetes, colitis, respiratory diseases, rheumatism, dermatological, psychological and gynecological ills, sterility, low and high blood pressure.” What had happened? For one thing, Madagascar’s mainstream medical establishment is suffering, medical and social coverage are virtually unknown. Relatively inexpensive hydrotherapy has therefore been drawing Malagasy patients in droves. But might this also speak to pre and post-colonial continuities-to the Malagasy recovering precolonial water practices? This question led me to wade into deeper currents-and to explore precolonial uses of the waters, which in turn, profoundly marked my approach to Curing the Colonizers.

There were nonetheless many evident carry-overs from colonial times. For one thing, Antsirabe’s sparkling mineral water is still known and sold as “Rano-Visy,” meaning “Vichy water” in Malagasy. That connection remains strong. So too does the idea of Antsirabe as a small replica of France, one where local elites have replaced the old colonial ones. On a more recent trip to Madagascar in 2005, I shared a taxi in the capital Antananarivo with a Chinese businessman involved in textiles- a lucrative and increasingly common relocation since the passing in 2000 of the US African Growth and Opportunity Act. This globalization moment was soon followed by a colonial allusion. My interlocutor raved about a recent weekend in Antsirabe-the closest he would ever get to France, he assured me. Antsirabe, the “France clone” that I was studying, was displaying an enduring afterlife.


By Eric T. Jennings

  • “In a volume published in Hanoi in 1941, prefaced by the Emperor of Annam, Bao Dai, an Indochinese journalist
    Vichy in the Tropics JPGbearing the royal name of Ton That Binh outlined the fundamental affinities between Confucianism and Pétainism. With syllogistic reasoning, he first established that “the Annamite [read Vietnamese] instinctively loves his Patrie,” then argued that Vichy in the Tropics JPG “the Annamite is profoundly attached to his Famille.” …. The finest example of Confucian-Pétainist parallelism, however, can be found in a 1942 text that presented side by side aphorisms and maxims from both philosophies. The book, Sentences parallèles franco-annamites bore on its cover the nationalist pseudonyms of Jean François (read Français), and Nguyen Viet-Nam (no translation necessary), and contained nearly one hundred pages of cultural similarities designed to startle, but that in reality sometimes amounted to universal truisms rather than truths. — Eric T. Jennings in “Vichy in the Tropics”

About Eric T. Jennings

  • “This well written, fast moving, and always intriguing book looks at the development of Vichy’s colonial policy and how it reflected its leaders’ deeply held values. Bringing together much previously unknown material, Jennings reveals the extent to which Vichy policy fostered and triggered nationalism in the French colonies.” —- William B. Cohen, Indiana University reviewing “Vichy in the Tropics”
  • “What Eric Jennings’ fine study provides is a look inside Vichy’s empire, exploring the ways in which Vichy’s ideology played out in three tropical settings.” -— H-France Book Reviews reviewing “Vichy in the Tropics”
  • “Jennings’s study is a first-rate, original contribution to the scholarship of the French empire. His style is clear and coherent, and his work is not ponderous nor slow. Although aimed at advanced students of both the Vichy period and French expansionism, Vichy in the Tropics is a work that will enlighten anyone with an interest in Europe during World War II.” —- History reviewing “Vichy in the Tropics”
  • “This excellent book . . . .opens up a field that has received scant attention even from French scholars of empire who tend to dismiss it, particularly in terms of its significance for any understanding of French decolonizati on.” -— American Historical Review reviewing “Vichy in the Tropics”
  • “This original, timely, and finely crafted comparative study of French colonial policies and ethnic relations during the second quarter of the twentieth century represents a significant contribution to colonial cultural history.” —- Journal of Interdiciplinary History
  • “In this interesting an innovative study, Eric Jennings makes an important contribution to the history of Vichy France that is at once original in subject matter, grounded in substantial archival research, and convincing in its key arguments.” —- Journal of Modern History reviewing “Vichy in the Tropics”
  • “Curing the Colonizers is a thoroughly original, fascinating study. It will complement and immediately stand among the very finest studies of colonialism/imperialism in the past decades.” —- John Merriman, author of “Police Stories: Building the French State, 1815-1851” reviewing “Curing the Colonizers”
  • “Eric T. Jennings’s ability to give an in-depth understanding of five very different regions, mastering the primary and secondary literature on all of them, is simply breathtaking. To my knowledge, no one else has managed to write this kind of colonial history, examining the imperial framework as a whole while at the same time giving detailed information about individual colonies.” — Tyler Stovall, coeditor of “The Color of Liberty: Histories of Race in France” reviewing “Curing the Colonizers”
  • “This is a very well constructed study, with the case studies rounded off by a measured conclusion. The main themes are clearly argued and demonstrated, the text nicely illustrated with postcards, advertisements and other illustrations. It is a very welcome addition to the growing literature on the spas.” — Alastair J. Durie, “French History” reviewing “Curing the Colonizers”

Posted on Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 6:24 PM

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