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A Velvet Empire

French Informal Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century

David Todd

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Geisteswissenschaften, Kunst, Musik / Geschichte


How France's elites used soft power to pursue their imperial ambitions in the nineteenth century

After Napoleon's downfall in 1815, France embraced a mostly informal style of empire, one that emphasized economic and cultural influence rather than military conquest. A Velvet Empire is a global history of French imperialism in the nineteenth century, providing new insights into the mechanisms of imperial collaboration that extended France's power from the Middle East to Latin America and ushered in the modern age of globalization.

David Todd shows how French elites pursued a cunning strategy of imperial expansion in which conspicuous commodities such as champagne and silk textiles, together with loans to client states, contributed to a global campaign of seduction. French imperialism was no less brutal than that of the British. But while Britain widened its imperial reach through settler colonialism and the acquisition of far-flung territories, France built a "velvet" empire backed by frequent military interventions and a broadening extraterritorial jurisdiction. Todd demonstrates how France drew vast benefits from these asymmetric, imperial-like relations until a succession of setbacks around the world brought about their unravelling in the 1870s.

A Velvet Empire sheds light on France's neglected contribution to the conservative reinvention of modernity and offers a new interpretation of the resurgence of French colonialism on a global scale after 1880. This panoramic book also highlights the crucial role of collaboration among European empires during this period—including archrivals Britain and France—and cooperation with indigenous elites in facilitating imperial expansion and the globalization of capitalism.



Racism, Great power, First French Empire, Tax, Second Opium War, Jean-Baptiste Say, Piracy, Sovereignty, Agriculture (Chinese mythology), Suzerainty, Imperialism, Modernity, Jews, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Superiority (short story), Ridicule, Johns Hopkins University, Emigration, July Monarchy, Annexation, Capitalism, Politique, Globalization, Vichy France, Utrecht University, Economic development, Princeton University Press, Protectionism, Saint-Domingue, Expansionism, Wealth, Egyptian Government, Treaty, North Africa, Government of France, Mixed economy, Political economy, Industrialisation, Free trade, École Normale Supérieure, Slavery, Colonial empire, Napoleon, Europe, Abolitionism, French colonial empire, Informal empire, Republicanism, Tunisia, Jeremy Adelman, Economics, Civilization, French Emigration (1789–1815), Client state, Colonialism, Expatriate, European University Institute, British Empire, Colonization, Anti-imperialism, Investor, Latin America, Colony, Bourgeoisie, Geopolitics, Ancien Régime, Military occupation, Extraterritoriality, University of Cambridge, Algeria, Physiocracy, Bourbon Restoration, Government debt, Economic growth, Politics, Commodity, Alexis de Tocqueville, French Algeria, Saint-Simonianism, Cambridge University Press, Economic integration, King's College London, Maximilian I of Mexico, Commodification, Settler colonialism, Metropolitan France, Seminar, Historiography, Tariff, Politician, French Consulate, Suggestion, Louis Philippe I, Monarchy, Opium, Harvard University, Diplomacy, Napoleon III, Corn Laws, Counter-revolutionary