French Colonial Documentary: Mythologies of Humanitarianism (review)


The use of the photographic and cinematic image in late nineteenth-century anthropology has implicated the emergence of these technologies in the project of colonial conquest and ethnographic classification. In French Colonial Documentary: Mythologies of Humanism, Peter J. Bloom examines the myriad uses to which the documentary image was put during the interwar period, arguing that the representation of a pre-civilized state of being justified colonial intervention in the name of social reform. Bloom’s exhaustive research unearths educational, travel and medical films that make French Colonial Documentary an invaluable resource for film historians, anthropologists and archivists. Expanding on recent work that reconsiders ethnographic cinema and the role it plays in anthropology, museology and the study of popular culture, Bloom traces the formation of interwar medical and educational film production and distribution systems that advocated interventionism, couching this move in the discourse of social reform. The ethnographic camera that projected its subjects into the colonial past was now used to organize their march into the present under the auspices of colonial policy and international humanitarianism. Bloom analyzes the figure of the “victim,” showing how its construction became part of a French colonial imaginary that continues to inform contemporary appeals for humanitarian action.

Read Article On Muse