In 1892, the French resident general in Tunisia launched the first state-sponsored colonization effort in the Tunisian protectorate. Based on Paul Bourde's study of ancient Roman agriculture, the colonization plan explicitly sought to remake Roman prosperity in central Tunisia by fostering the cultivation of olives. Examining Bourde's study of the ancient past and his work as director of agriculture in Tunisia, this article explores the connections between the study of the Roman Empire and the development of colonialism in North Africa. In tracing this history, this article highlights how the study and use of Roman ruins in French Tunisia inspired an appreciation for the role that technology and material development played in supporting the spread of Roman civilization and culture.
Jessica Biddlestone was the 2019–2020 postdoctoral fellow at the Nicholas D. Chabraja Center for Historical Studies at Northwestern University. She currently works in the Dean of Students Office in The College at the University of Chicago. Her book project, Empire of Ruins: France in Roman Africa, 1830–1900, explores how the study and use of Roman ruins informed French colonialism in Algeria and Tunisia.