SIFK 2019-21 Postdoctoral Researcher Yan Slobodkin is a historian of Modern Europe, with further expertise in the history of Africa, transnational and imperial history, and the history of science. Slobodkin’s book poject “Empire of Hunger: Famine and the French Colonial State, 1867-1945” draws on disciplines including the history of science, public health, economics, and environmental studies.

Based on archival research in Europe, Africa, and Asia, Slobodkin’s manuscript traces changing conceptions of famine in the French Empire. Though French administrators once dismissed famine as an act of god or a misfortune of nature, developments in public health, social engineering, and scientific conceptions of race suggested new tools for managing food and bodies in the colonies. In the interwar period, the high modernist confidence in the ability to mitigate hunger, coupled with the acknowledgement of the political responsibility to do so, marked a turning point in the French Empire’s relationship to its subjects and to nature itself.

In an age of increasingly rigid scientific racism, nutrition science unexpectedly encouraged a mutable and controllable idea of race and evolution, leading to ambitious biopolitical plans for controlling famine and malnutrition. However, increasingly sophisticated understandings of famine saddled the French colonial state with obligations that it was unable and unwilling to fulfill, undermining the ideological justifications of empire. This project contributes an understudied perspective to the theme “medical genetics and the history of eugenics.”

Related SIFK Courses

KNOW 40207: Human Rights and Humanitarianism in the Modern World (Winter 2020)

Learn more about Yan Slobodkin.