The French Empire Goes to San Francisco

The Founding of the United Nations and the Limits of Colonial Reform

in French Politics, Culture & Society
Jessica Lynne Pearson Macalester College, USA

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This article explores the French delegation's approach to debates about colonial oversight and accountability that took place at the Conference on International Organization in San Francisco in 1945, where delegates from fifty nations gathered to draft the United Nations (UN) Charter. Drawing on documents from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UN, and the American press, it argues that while French officials at home and in the empire were eagerly negotiating a new French Union that would put metropolitan France and the colonies on unprecedently equal footing, French delegates to the San Francisco conference were unwilling to take a stand for these reforms-in-progress. Ultimately, French delegates to the conference lacked confidence that the incipient French Union would stand up to international scrutiny as these delegates worked to establish new international standards for what constituted “self-government.”

Contributor Notes

Jessica Lynne Pearson is a historian of internationalism, decolonization, and the French Empire in the twentieth century. Her first book, The Colonial Politics of Global Health: France and the United Nations in Postwar Africa, was published by Harvard University Press in 2018. She is the coeditor with Nicole Eggers and Aurora Almada e Santos of the volume The United Nations and Decolonization (Routledge, 2020). Presently, she is working on a book manuscript entitled “Traveling to the End of Empire: Leisure Tourism in the Era of Decolonization,” which explores the global entanglements between travel and the collapse of the French and British empires in the twentieth century. She has taught at Tulane University and the College of International Studies at the University of Oklahoma, and she is currently Assistant Professor of History at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Email:

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