Curing the Colonizers

Hydrotherapy, Climatology, and French Colonial Spas

Curing the Colonizers

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 24 photos, 5 maps Published: October 2006

History > World History, Medicine and Health > Medical Humanities, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

“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. Throughout the French empire, spas featuring water cures, often combined with “climatic” cures, thrived during the nineteenth century and the twentieth. Water cures and high-altitude resorts 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 be effective against tropical ailments ranging from malaria to yellow fever; specialized guidebooks dispensed advice on the best spas for “colonial ills.” 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. Colonizers frequented spas to maintain their strength, preserve their French identity, and cultivate their difference from the colonized.

Combining the histories of empire, leisure, tourism, culture, and medicine, Eric T. Jennings sheds new light on the workings of empire by examining the rationale and practice of French colonial hydrotherapy between 1830 and 1962. He traces colonial acclimatization theory and the development of a “science” of hydrotherapy appropriate to colonial spaces, and he chronicles and compares the histories of spas in several French colonies—Guadeloupe, Madagascar, Tunisia, and Réunion—and in France itself. Throughout Curing the Colonizers, Jennings illuminates the relationship between indigenous and French colonial therapeutic knowledge as well as the ultimate failure of the spas to make colonialism physically or morally safe for the French.


Curing the Colonizers is an impressively researched and beautifully written book that takes Jennings’s previous transcolonial work on the Vichy regime overseas in highly original new directions.” — Alice L. Conklin, Journal of Modern History

Curing the Colonizers is successful in providing a ‘history of colonial anxieties and countermeasures’ to combat perceived ‘European fragility and mortality in the tropics’. The work remedies the claim that French hydrotherapy has received little attention from historians. Jennings has provided a useful and informative work, contributing to the histories of tourism, empire, medicine and colonialism.” — James Kulwicki, Journal of Social History

Curing the Colonizers provides a novel and fascinating exploration of spa culture designed for the colonials who braved debilitating diseases, punishing climates and tropical neurasthenia for la plus grande France.” — Robert Aldrich, African Affairs

“[A] nuanced, insightful examination of the ideological premises and cultural practices that informed French colonialism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. . . . With this fascinating book, Jennings joins a distinguished group of historians. . . . He further enriches our understanding of Europeans’ anxieties about self and security in the alien lands they ruled, casting a fresh eye in turn on the cultural conventions and social practices they marshaled to bolster their sense of confidence and give meaning to their privileged place in the colonial order.” — Dane Kennedy, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“[A] pioneering book on spa therapy in the French colonial empire. . . Jennings has used great historical ingenuity to collect dispersed material on a series of even more dispersed institutions. Historians of medicine will find it an engaging read.” — George Weisz, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

“[A] thoroughly enjoyable book. . . .” — Bertrand Taithe, Modern and Contemporary France

“[A] very detailed, insightful and provocative examination of colonial spas, medical theories, and leisure activities in French colonies.” — Janet Hoskins, Itinerario

“[I]mportant for historians of medicine, empire, and their productive intersections.” — Richard C. Keller, Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

“[Jennings] manages to bring to life the diverse aspects of these spa resorts, including their role as medical and political centers and tourist destinations. . . . Jennings’s elegant study handles these complex issues deftly and with clarity. It is a significant and welcome addition to a growing body of literature on the history of acclimatization in French imperialism.” — Mark Harrison, Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences

“[T]he importance of this accomplished book for historians of medicine and of colonialism should be readily apparent. Yet it ought to be added that Jennings’s work also offers much to reward readers whose interests in social and cultural history extend to such topics as leisure, tourism, architecture and urban planning.” — Michael Biddiss, History

“This is a valuable study that will be of interest to many historians and scholars of colonialism, imperialism, medicine and tourism.” — Manuella Meyer, Social History of Medicine

“Both the author and Duke University Press deserve much credit for a well-written volume. . . With its fascinating content, the clarity of Jennings' prose, and the affordable paperback format, this book deserves to be adopted for use in upper-division undergraduate as well as graduate courses in French history, imperial history, and the history of travel and tourism.” — Stephen L. Harp, H-Net Reviews

“Jennings’s book is well-researched, original, and thought-provoking, as well as an enjoyable read. It will prove valuable to scholars and students of colonialism, French history, the history of medicine, and the history of tourism.” — Ruth Ginio, Africa Today

“Like all good books, this one raises many intriguing questions. Coupled with its clear prose and well-argued themes, it provides an excellent teaching tool and makes a fine contribution to the growing literature on the French colonies.” — Patricia M. E. Lorcin, International History Review

“This is a very well constructed study, with the case studies rounded off by a measured conclusion. The main themes are clearly argued and demonstrated, the text nicely illustrated with postcards, advertisements and other illustrations. It is a very welcome addition to the growing literature on the spas.” — Alastair J. Durie, French History

"[An] engaging study of Lachaux's now vanished world, which makes an important contribution to studies of empire, medicine, tourism, and leisure. . . ." — Caroline Ford, French Politics, Culture & Society

"By telling the history of colonial France through the fascinating and focused lens of hydrotherapy and spa going, Jennings reminds us that dispensing with the deep meanings of Vichy is not as simple as Capt. Louis Renault makes it appear in the final scene of Casablanca." — Sebastian Normandin, Canadian Journal of History

”Eric T. Jennings has crafted an extremely readable book on spas and hydrotherapy in France and the French colonies of Guadeloupe, Réunion, Madagascar and Tunisia. . . . This study ranges widely over tourism, spa architecture and the ethnography of patients who frequented Vichy. Its photographs are well reproduced and some of them, like the picture of Antsirabe’s Hôtel des thermes, portray the vast scale and sometimes lavish décor of these colonial institutions. This book is solidly grounded in widely dispersed archival sources and constitutes an exemplar of the new imperial history. I highly recommend it.” — Michael A. Osborne, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Curing the Colonizers is a thoroughly original, fascinating study. It will complement and immediately stand among the very finest studies of colonialism/imperialism in the past decades.” — John Merriman, author of Police Stories: Building the French State, 1815-1851

“Eric T. Jennings’s ability to give an in-depth understanding of five very different regions, mastering the primary and secondary literature on all of them, is simply breathtaking. To my knowledge, no one else has managed to write this kind of colonial history, examining the imperial framework as a whole while at the same time giving detailed information about individual colonies.” — Tyler Stovall, coeditor of The Color of Liberty: Histories of Race in France


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Eric T. Jennings is Associate Professor of History and a member of Victoria College at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Vichy in the Tropics: Pétain’s National Revolution in Madagascar, Guadeloupe, and Indochina, 1940–1944 and a coeditor, with Jacques Cantier, of L’Empire colonial sous Vichy.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface and Acknowledgements ix

Introduction 1

1. Acclimatization, Climatology, and the Possibility of Empire 8

2. Colonial Hydrotherapy 40

3. Highland Hydrotherapy in Guadeloupe 64

4. The Spas and Réunion Island: Antechambers to the Tropics 90

5. Leisure and Power at the Spa of Antsirabe, Madagascar 118

6. Korbous, Tunisia: Negating the Hamman 154

7. Vichy: Taking the Waters Back Home 178

Conclusion 211

Archival Abbreviations 215

Notes 217

Bibliography 247

Index 263
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Winner, 2012 Prix Jean-Francois Coste, presented by the Académie National de Médecine (Paris)

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3822-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3808-6
Publicity material