Keywords: French colonialism - Imperial history - Public memory
The article argues that the current debate over the memory of French colonialism is strongly connected to the collapse of a long and controversial metropolitan historiographical tradition. From the early modern era up to the very end of the twentieth century, this tradition established the image of France as a colonizing nation through a continuous reckoning with the colonial past. The article deals with the affirmation of "colonial history" as proper discipline in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and discusses its attempted integration of the history of France's early modern overseas expansion into a more comprehensive picture of French colonial power. However, historical reconstructions of the colonial past were often influenced by arguments spread by sources, as well as by coeval political controversies over French "colonizing mission". Finally, such colonial narratives are contrasted to perspectives recently opened up by the Atlantic history and renewed imperial history. The article makes the case for the benefits of a critical study of the making of historiographical traditions in order to disentangle our understanding of national colonial history from its ideological heritage.