Medical Imperialism in French North Africa


Medical Imperialism in French North Africa

Regenerating the Jewish Community of Colonial Tunis

Richard C. Parks

France Overseas: Studies in Empire and Decolonization Series

216 pages
3 maps, index


October 2017


$55.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

October 2017


$55.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

October 2017


$55.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

French-colonial Tunisia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries witnessed shifting concepts of identity, including varying theories of ethnic essentialism, a drive toward “modernization,” and imperialist interpretations of science and medicine. As French colonizers worked to realize ideas of a “modern” city and empire, they undertook a program to significantly alter the physical and social realities by which the people of Tunisia lived, often in ways that continue to influence life today.

Medical Imperialism in French North Africa demonstrates the ways in which diverse members of the Jewish community of Tunis received, rejected, or reworked myriad imperial projects devised to foster the social, corporeal, and moral “regeneration” of their community. Buttressed by the authority of science and medicine, regenerationist schemes such as urban renewal projects and public health reforms were deployed to destroy and recast the cultural, social, and political lives of Jewish colonial subjects. Richard C. Parks expands on earlier scholarship to examine how notions of race, class, modernity, and otherness shaped these efforts. Looking at such issues as the plasticity of identity, the collaboration and contention between French and Tunisian Jewish communities, Jewish women’s negotiation of social power relationships in Tunis, and the razing of the city’s Jewish quarter, Parks fills the gap in current literature by focusing on the broader transnational context of French actions in colonial Tunisia.


Author Bio

Richard C. Parks is an academic specialist in the history of science and medicine at Michigan State University.


"Medical Imperialism in French North Africa adds much to our understanding of French colonial policies towards minority communities in colonial North Africa and of gender and empire in general."—Nancy Gallagher, Journal of the History of Medicine

"Park's Medical Imperialism is a very welcome contribution to the study of eugenics, imperialism and religious and ethnic identities in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. . . . While Parks's work provides an interesting glimpse into a little known field of French colonial history, this book also raises broader questions that will be of interest to scholars of public health, empire and the state. By focusing on how the project of national regeneration played out in the recently established French protectorate in Tunisia, Parks provides readers with a window into broader scholarly debates about identity, biopolitics and the nature of colonial rule."—Jessica Lynne Pearson, Social History of Medicine

"By showing how discourses of public health, urban planning, and hygiene established the difference of Tunisian Jews both from non-Jewish inhabitants of Tunis, as well as from French Jews, Parks adds a valuable contribution to the history of North African Jews."—Aro Velmet, French Politics, Culture and Society

"Medical Imperialism is a must-read in the panoply of works on French imperialism for its novelty and thoroughness."—Claudy Delné, French Review

"This book represents an attempt to reconstruct the social, cultural, and historical context of the Tunisian Jewish community under French protectorate, in particular the period between the two World Wars. It presents useful information for readers who may not be very familiar with the histories and complex ethnic and religious struggles which were at play in Maghrebi and Middle Eastern societies during the Ottoman and European empires."—Aimée Israel-Pelletier, Reading Religion

"[Medical Imperialism in French North Africa] indicates the importance of studying religion in colonial medicine outside of the realm of Christian missionaries."—Hannah-Louise Clark, Journal of Modern History

“Richard Parks adds new layers to our understanding of the interactions between colonizer and colonized in Tunisia, demonstrating how European ideologies and methodologies were challenged and reinterpreted on the ground. In doing so, he also sheds a new and powerful light on the complex interethnic landscape of colonial Tunisia.”—Maud S. Mandel, Dean of the College at Brown University and author of Muslims and Jews in France: History of a Conflict 

“In his highly original study, Richard Parks poses a fundamental question: Did a Tunisian Jewish community historically exist during the colonial era? Ethnographically and conceptually rich, this work employs the notion of regeneration to probe multiple kinds of lived and imagined social space—urban, hygienic, residential, reproductive, and associative. The author’s sustained and nuanced attention to issues of women and gender makes this book particularly compelling.”—Julia Clancy-Smith, professor of history at the University of Arizona and author of Mediterraneans: North Africa and Europe in an Age of Migration, c. 1800–1900

Table of Contents

List of Maps
1. Situating Regeneration: Medicine, Science, and “Modern” Bodies
2. Regenerating Space: Destruction and Divided Communities
3. Regenerating Space, Part 2: Not All Ghettoes Are the Same
4. Regenerating Youth: The Role of the Alliance and the Rise of Zionism
5. Regenerating Women: The Assertion of Reproductive Control
Conclusion: A Brief Reflection on Identity

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