Jennifer Anne Boittin is Professor of French and Francophone Studies, History, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Pennsylvania State University.

“Undesirables: Stories and Archives of Unruly Women In the French Empire”

This talk tells some of the stories of over 500 women deemed “undesirable” by the French colonial police. These women were Southeast Asian, West African, or European. They were traveling alone, poor or ill, or deemed unruly for their choice of intimate partners. They wrote passionate letters to the police advocating for themselves and pleading for the ability to move freely throughout the French empire. Boittin shows how these letter writers rejected patriarchal or racialized evaluations of themselves as “bad” and “out of place” and summoned intimate details to move beyond, contest, or confound surveillance efforts. They brought to life a practice she terms “passionate mobility.” Taken together, they challenged the empire, added momentum to movements for decolonization, and illuminate today’s issues of migration and violence.

Sponsor: History at MIT

Global France Seminar series Fall 2023:

  • September 19, 5pm. 14E-304. Professor Jennifer Boittin (Penn State). 
  • September 27, 1:30pm. 4-249. In French: Joseph Kai (graphic novelist). 
  • October 11, 5:15pm. 14E-304. Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Columbia University).