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FR16: Colonialism, empire and globalisation: technologies of space in French culture from 1700

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24.

This paper explores the impact of technological innovation on the changing experience, understanding and representation of geographical/physical space and social/political identity through a comparative historical study of the ‘print revolution’ associated with the Enlightenment and the ‘digital revolution’ shaping today’s global society.  The approach combines intellectual and cultural history with the study of contemporary philosophy and its innovative interplay with novelistic and cinematic modes of expression. 

Students will acquire a historical understanding of European global exploration, colonialism and commerce in the long eighteenth century and consider the development of a ‘planetary consciousness’ in relation to the progress of science and the expansion of the book trade.   Students will simultaneously study how the Enlightenment has been debated by key modern philosophers in the context of their own interrogation of the transformation of spatial experience brought about by digital communication technologies, contemporary capitalism and ‘hyper-industrial’ consumer society.   They will explore the impact of globalization on the material transmission and translation of texts.  In this context they will also probe the politics and porosity of national articulations of literary cultures.

Across both periods, the topics of technology and globalization will be used to explore the idea of modern society and its ethical dilemmas, especially as these relate to international relations, notions of nationhood and patriotism, and questions of migration and resettlement.  Students are encouraged to explore the continuities and discontinuities between the two periods under scrutiny as well as between the different types of writing and film that form the body of the paper.


Eighteenth-century texts studied will include extracts from: Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie; the natural historical systems of classification of Linnaeus and Buffon; philosophical and political writing on colonialism and commerce, notably Raynal’s Histoire philosophique des deux Indes.  Issues raised through these texts will be developed through more detailed study of, for example, Diderot’s Supplément au Voyage de Bougainville, Rousseau’s Rêveries d’un promeneur solitaire, Voltaire’s Micromégas and Candide, Bernadin de Saint-Pierre’s Paul et Virginie and La Chaumière indienne.

Contemporary authors studied include Paul Virilio, Jacques Derrida, Bernard Stiegler, Henri Lefebvre.

Preparatory reading: 

See the topics above.

Teaching and learning: 

The paper will be taught through 10 lectures and 10 seminars (alternating weeks).  Each seminar will take the form of guided reading and student-led presentations.  Students will receive a minimum of one and a maximum of two supervisions for each four-week topic.  These will be organized and given by the paper co-ordinators.

For the Fr.16 Moodle site, please see here.


The paper will be assessed either through a combination of coursework and open-book online examination or through an optional dissertation.

The exam paper is divided into three sections:

A. Compasses and computers.

Questions relating to the history of globalization and the technologies that have shaped the conditions of contact and cultural transmission.

B. Theories of space and time

Questions relating to the philosophical and theoretical conceptualizations of globalization and its impact on social relationships, understandings of social and political identity, and the rights and duties of the international traveller/trader

C. Imagined landscapes

Questions relating to how space has been imagined in a global age by particular authors or film-makers

Course Contacts: 
Professor Jenny Mander
Professor Ian James