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A French Imperial Meridian, 1814–1870

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-186
Number of pages32
JournalPast and Present
Issue number1
PublishedFeb 2011


King's Authors


The period stretching from the restoration of Louis XVIII in 1814 until the fall of Napoleon III in 1870 remains the terra incognita of the history of French global ambitions. Even the volume of L’Aventure coloniale de la France, covering the years 1789–1870, stresses that the French ‘cautiously withdrew into themselves’ after the collapse of the first Napoleonic Empire.1 Such a view, this article argues, relies on an extraordinary neglect for the resilience of French formal and, above all, informal power between the fall of the Bourbon monarchy’s Atlantic empire and the rise of the Third Republic’s African and Indochinese empire: France in the intervening years remained a military, economic, scientific, and cultural super-power, who deployed her influence on a global scale, and not always unsuccessfully. It is therefore possible to recast the years 1814 to 1870 as a French ‘imperial meridian’, in the sense of an historiographical chasm between two classical periods of imperial expansion.

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