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BA English Literature and French

Year of entry: 2021

Course unit details:
Race and Empire in the French-speaking World

Unit code FREN20561
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by French Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course focuses on the cultural representation of racial identity and power relations in the French and Francophone world, during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Introductory lectures and seminars present the history of French and Belgian colonisation and theorize the key concepts of ‘Race’, ‘Blackness’, ‘Otherness’ and ‘imperial gaze’, discussing theories of racial representation and stereotyping. Subsequent sessions are devoted to the analysis of the set texts, which range across stage performance, cinema, bande-dessinée and literature, and examine French, Belgian and Senegalese works. These are : the stage and film performances of the African-American dancer Josephine Baker (1927-35); the bande-dessinée Tintin au Congo by Belgian cartoonist Hergé (1933 and 1946 versions); and two works by the Senegalese author and filmmaker Ousmane Sembène: his short story ‘La Noire de… (1962) and its 1966 film adaptation.


This unit is available as free choice with knowledge of the target language.


  • to familiarise students with the French and Belgian history of colonisation ;
  • to introduce students to the discipline of Cultural Studies in order to enable the analysis of literary, visual and audio-visual artwork from the period 1920-1970;
  • to provide an overview of the different issues of cultural representation with specific reference to the perception of racial ‘difference’ in a colonial and post-colonial context;
  • to provide students with key concepts (‘identity’, ‘race’, ‘exoticism’, ‘blackness’…);
  • to encourage and enable students to verbalise and intellectualise their emotional response to ‘racist’, ‘anti-racist’ and ‘anti-colonial’ cultural production;
  • to equip students with intellectual and analytical tools to consider the racially-grounded production of literature, bande dessinée, film and performance.


Knowledge and understanding

Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of some of the major aspects of racial identity and (post-)colonial power relations in French and Francophone culture and society, during the twentieth century.


Intellectual skills

Contextualise, analyze and discuss literary, visual and audio-visual material in a structured fashion; apply critically terminology and conceptual frameworks derived from Cultural Studies (‘identity’, ‘stereotype’, ‘representation’…).

Practical skills

Demonstrate the ability to carry out individual research for coursework essays, and express ideas and arguments coherently and convincingly in time-limited constraints, using an appropriate level of academic writing and exemplification.


Transferable skills and personal qualities

Demonstrate powers of analysis; manage word-count effectively when writing coursework; manage time effectively when writing in exam conditions; participate in seminars; work as part of a group; assess the relevance of existing literature through independent research; seek advice and feedback and develop confidence.


Employability skills

- Time management - Responding to instructions - Independent research; initiative - Intercultural awareness - Coherent expression (orally and in writing)

Assessment methods

Theoretical discussion Formative
Essay Plan Formative
Essay 100%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Individual written and oral feedback on the ‘theoretical discussion’


Individual written and oral feedback on the coursework plan


Individual written feedback on coursework performance



Recommended reading

Set texts:

  1. Two films with Josephine Baker, made available to students: Zou Zou (dir. M. Allégret, 1934) and Princesse Tam Tam (dir. E. Gréville, 1935).
  2. Hergé, Tintin au Congo (Casterman, 2006 [1946]). To buy own copy via Blackwell’s bookshop.
  3. Sembène, Ousmane, ‘La Noire de…’, in Voltaïque (Paris: Présence Africaine, 1962), pp. 157–84 (Digitised short story available via Blackboard)
  4. La Noire de… (film by Ousmane Sembène, 1966), made available to students.

Secondary Readings :

  1. Aldrich, Robert. Greater France: A History of French Overseas Expansion (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996)
  2. Boittin, Jennifer Anne. ‘Black in France. The Language and Politics of Race in the Late Third Republic’, French Politics, Culture and Society, 27 (2), 2009, 22-46
  3. Evans, Martin. Empire and Culture: The French Experience, 1830-1940 (Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)
  4. Hall, Stuart. ‘The Spectacle of the “Other”’, in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices, ed. by Stuart Hall (London: Sage, 2001), 223-90


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 12
Seminars 12
Independent study hours
Independent study 176

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Joseph Mcgonagle Unit coordinator
Barbara Lebrun Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Plus screenings

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