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Jean Elisabeth Pedersen

“What is a nation?” Ernest Renan’s famous rhetorical question to an audience at the Sorbonne on 11 March 1882 has remained vital for a wide variety of scholars in fields as diverse as history, literary criticism, sociology, philosophy, and political science. Renan initially posed the question barely ten years after the close of the Franco-Prussian War, which had sparked the establishment of the French Third Republic, the unification of Germany under the leadership of Wilhelm I, and the transfer of the disputed territory of Alsace-Lorraine from French to German control in the months between July 1870 and May 1871. Renan made no overt mention of these events while he was speaking, but he rejected any possible answer to his question that might attempt to base the creation of nations and national identities on shared “race, language, [economic] interests, religious affinity, geography, [or] military necessities.” This explicit refusal constituted an implicit rejection of the entire range of German justifications for the acquisition of the two recently French border provinces.

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Alsace-Lorraine and Africa

French Discussions of French and German Politics, Culture, and Colonialism in the Deliberations of the Union for Truth, 1905–1913

Jean Elisabeth Pedersen

This article explores the ways in which French intellectuals understood the changing and intersecting relationships between France and Germany, France and Alsace-Lorraine, and France and Africa during the early twentieth-century expansion of the French empire. The body of the text analyzes the interdisciplinary discussions of Paul Desjardins, Charles Gide, and their academic and activist colleagues at the Union pour la vérité (Union for Truth) and its Libres entretiens (Open Conversations) in the immediate aftermath of the First and Second Moroccan Crises. Focusing on the Union's 1905–1906 and 1912–1913 debates over the issues of nationalism, internationalism, imperialism, and colonization provides a new understanding of the relationship between French national identity and French imperial identity. The conclusion explains how and why this group of largely progressive French political analysts simultaneously rejected German expansion into France and justified French expansion across the African continent.

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Representations of Women in the French Imaginary

Historicizing the Gallic Singularity

Jean Elisabeth Pedersen

This article, the introduction to the special issue “Representations of Women in the French Imaginary: Historicizing the Gallic Singularity,” frames the work of contributors Tracy Adams, Christine Adams, Jean Elisabeth Pedersen, Whitney Walton, and Kathleen Antonioli by analyzing two especially important contemporary debates about French sexual politics, one popular and one academic: (1) the international controversy over Catherine Deneuve’s decision to sign a French manifesto against the American #MeToo movement in Le Monde; and (2) the mixed French and American response to the work of Mona Ozouf in Les mots des femmes: Essai sur la singularité française. The five articles in the special issue itself bring new breadth and depth to the study of these and related debates by exploring a range of different French representations of women in a series of key texts, topics, and historical episodes from the rise of the Middle Ages to the aftermath of World War I.

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Outrageous Flirtation, Repressed Flirtation, and the Gallic Singularity

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Comparative Views on Women and Marriage in France and the United States

Jean Elisabeth Pedersen

This article offers a new way of understanding Alexis de Tocqueville’s complex position as a French observer who studied the United States, an ambivalent aristocratic cultural commentator who put his hopes for the future in democratic society, and a paradoxical figure in the history of debates over the so-called “Gallic singularity” who ultimately argued that the new American sex/gender system could provide a better model for women in a democracy than the traditional French one. The introduction and first section highlight Tocqueville’s changing attitudes toward what he saw as the key contrasts between European marriages and American marriages by comparing his initial letters home from the United States with his eventual work in Democracy in America. The second section compares his views of French and American women with those of his contemporaries Germaine de Staël and Gustave de Beaumont. The third section explains his changing views by establishing the connections between his comparative arguments about women and marriage and his comparative arguments about democracy itself.