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Lecture by Eric Jennings: An Empire of Spas: The Networks, Curative Regimes and the Business of French Colonial Hydrotherapy

May 21, 2021 | 04:00 PM - 06:00 PM
Illustration Lecture Eric Jennings

Illustration Lecture Eric Jennings

The HERA project The European Spa as a Transnational Public Space and Social Metaphor and the ARTES Global Travel Cultures Research Seminar (Amsterdam University) present: 

Prof. Eric Jennings (University of Toronto)

An Empire of Spas: The Networks, Curative Regimes and the Business of French Colonial Hydrotherapy

Comments by Maarten Langhendries (KU Leuven)

Friday 21 May 2021 

4 pm (online)

“Beware!  Against the poison that is Africa, there is but one antidote: Vichy.”  So ran a 1924 advertisement for one of France’s main spas.  Why and how were mineral waters recruited in imperial projects?  How did they come to be seen as the cure of choice against colonial ills?  In this presentation, I outline the centrality of spas to the French colonial enterprise. Throughout the French empire, spas featuring water cures, often combined with “climatic” cures, thrived during the nineteenth century and the twentieth. Water cures were widely believed to serve vital therapeutic and even prophylactic functions against tropical disease and the tropics themselves. The Ministry of the Colonies published bulletins accrediting a host of spas thought to treat tropical ailments ranging from malaria to yellow fever; specialized guidebooks dispensed advice on the best spas for “colonial ills” including malaria and yellow fever.  Administrators were granted regular furloughs to “take the waters” back home in France. In the colonies, spas assuaged homesickness by creating oases of France abroad. Colonials frequented spas to maintain their strength, preserve their French identity, and cultivate their difference from the colonized.


Eric Jennings is professor of history at the University of Toronto (Victoria College).  His books include Escape from Vichy: The Refugee Exodus to the French Caribbean (Harvard UP, 2018), Perspectives on French Colonial Madagascar (Palgrave, 2017); Free French Africa in World War II (Cambridge UP, 2015), Imperial Heights: Dalat and the Making and Undoing of French Indochina (California, 2011), Curing the Colonizers (Duke, 2006), and Vichy in the Tropics (Stanford, 2001). He co-edited L’Empire colonial sous Vichy (Odile Jacob, 2004) with Jacques Cantier.  His books have all been translated into French, and one into Vietnamese.  He has also been the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship.


Please register with c.u.noack@uva.nl to receive an invitation to the zoom meeting!