Geography in the Colonial Contex

Map of the Tonkin Delta (sic), executed at the Dépôt de la guerre based on the work of officers from the expeditionary corps, 1885 (3rd edition) .


There are close and widely-noted links between colonial expansion and the development of the social sciences. Geography in particular appears as the science of European imperialism, with the creation of categories—“geography of exploration,” “colonial geography,” and “tropical geography”—which reflected a patriotic science, applied to colonized territories. Although this was made possible by the colonial context—maps are needed to conquer a territory, information is needed for the administration of populations—the development of geography reflects more complex realities. While the discipline gradually became institutionalized in metropolitan France, geographers in the field were in constant tension, with the colonial administration and its sometimes diverging interests on the one hand and with the sciences in metropolitan France on the other.