HISTART 393.101

Race and Visual Culture in Modern France, from the French Revolution to art Deco

180 Tappan Hall
MW 10:00-1:00pm
3 Credit Seminar
Fulfills Race and Ethnicity Requirement

This course examines visual representations of a highly unstable category—race—in a highly unstable context: France, from the French Revolution to WWI. The biological framework that still haunts contemporary notions of race was first popularized in the late nineteenth century; even then the term "race" was often employed where we might now use "ethnicity," "nationality" or even "culture." French politics and geography were similarly in flux in this period, as alternate forms of government—Republican, monarchal, imperial—warred with one another. Crises and scandals followed in quick succession, and while France (temporarily) lost territory to Germany, it also expanded its colonial presence in Africa and Asia alike. These changes had a significant impact on groups like blacks and Jews that were seen, to varying degrees, as distinct from a "native" French population. The French Revolution granted full citizenship to Jews, and the Revolution of 1848 abolished slavery in the French colonies. But racism nevertheless continued to prevent minorities from gaining full access to the revolutionary ideals of "liberty, equality, fraternity." In the midst of this uncertainty, depictions of race had a particularly strong potential to modify perceptions, to support or oppose authority. But this begs questions that will be central to our discussion: what constitutes a visual representation of race? Does it require a body or does race manifest itself in other ways? When is a white body a raced body? How does race interact and overlap with other categories like class and gender? We will ask these questions of objects ranging from paintings and photographs to furniture and film.

Estimated cost of materials: $50.

Category for Concentration Distributions: D. Europe and the U.S., 4. Modern and Contemporary

Fulfills Race and Ethnicity Requirement


  • (left) Édouard Debat-Ponsan, La Vérité sortant du puits, oil on canvas, 1898
  • (middle) Waléry Studio, Josephine Baker in Banana Skirt from the Folies Bergère production "Un Vent de Folie," gelatin silver print, 1928
  • (right) Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, Portrait of Citizen Belley (Jean-Baptiste Belley, Deputy of Saint-Domingue at the Convention), oil on canvas, 1797