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“Beware! Against the poison that is Africa, there is but one antidote: Vichy.” So ran a 1924 advertisement for one of France’s main spas. Why and how were mineral waters recruited in imperial projects? How did they come to be seen as the cure of choice against colonial ills?

Event details of An Empire of Spas: The Networks, Curative Regimes and the Business of French Colonial Hydrotherapy.
Date 21 May 2021
Time 16:00 -17:30

In this presentation, Eric Jennings outlines the centrality of spas to the French colonial enterprise. Throughout the French empire, spas featuring water cures, often combined with “climatic” cures, thrived during the nineteenth century and the twentieth. Water cures were widely believed to serve vital therapeutic and even prophylactic functions against tropical disease and the tropics themselves. The Ministry of the Colonies published bulletins accrediting a host of spas thought to treat tropical ailments ranging from malaria to yellow fever; specialized guidebooks dispensed advice on the best spas for “colonial ills” including malaria and yellow fever.  Administrators were granted regular furloughs to “take the waters” back home in France. In the colonies, spas assuaged homesickness by creating oases of France abroad. Colonials frequented spas to maintain their strength, preserve their French identity, and cultivate their difference from the colonized.

Eric Jennings is professor of history at the University of Toronto (Victoria College).  His books include Escape from Vichy: The Refugee Exodus to the French Caribbean (Harvard UP, 2018), Perspectives on French Colonial Madagascar (Palgrave, 2017); Free French Africa in World War II (Cambridge UP, 2015), Imperial Heights: Dalat and the Making and Undoing of French Indochina (California, 2011), Curing the Colonizers (Duke, 2006), and Vichy in the Tropics (Stanford, 2001). He co-edited L’Empire colonial sous Vichy (Odile Jacob, 2004) with Jacques Cantier.  His books have all been translated into French, and one into Vietnamese.  He has also been the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship.

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Next online seminars:

4 June: Ute Lotz-Heumann (University of Arizona):

Constructing a Heterotopia and Training the Tourist Gaze: The German Spa in the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries

18 June: Sophie Vasset (CNRS / Université de Paris)

Bath and Beyond: Eighteenth-Century British Spas in Medicine and Literature


The European Spa // HERA (Humanities in the European Research Area)

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