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Jennings, Eric T.: Curing the Colonizers: Hydrotherapy, Crimatology, and French Colonial Spas.

Jennings, Eric T. Curing the Colonizers: Hydrotherapy, Climatology, and French Colonial Spas. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

The period between 1830 and 1962, which corresponds with the French colonial occupation of Algeria, was the "golden age" of both French spas and French imperialism (p. 21 !). In a unique combination of the histories of tourism, medicine, and colonialism, Eric T. Jennings, an Associate Professor of History at the University of Toronto, explains how spas in France, Madagascar, Reunion, Guadalupe, and Tunisia illustrate some of the foundations of colonial empire. Jennings contends that French spas, which were widely believed to play a therapeutic and curative role in the protection against tropical diseases, also served a social role that was essential to the well-being of the French colonizers. Water cures and altitude cures, therefore, were encouraged by the French Ministry of the Colonies and served as a bulwark in the maintenance of French colonies in the tropics. According to Jennings, the French spas were popular vacation spots that reinforced French cultural identity. As a result, the spas became "evocative symbols of colonial power" (p. 2).

Hydrotherapy and climatology played a prominent role in the French colonial experiment. Jennings explains that the reliance on water and altitude cures created artificial conditions in the tropical zones that strengthened the resolve of the French colonizers. In his quest to understand the "justification, elaboration, and production" of these colonial spas, Jennings posits that the spas "involved exploiting microclimates reminding colonials of home," the use of natural mineral springs that reminded the colonials of the therapeutic waters at Vichy, and the creation of a French cultural oasis in the tropics (p. 2). French fears of the inherent physical dangers of living in the tropics were assuaged by the establishment of hydrotherapy and climatology spas. Whereas several historians have devoted considerable attention to the impact of British hill stations (which relied almost exclusively on climatic rather than hydrotherapeutic cures) on the maintenance of British colonialism in the tropics, Jennings is the first historian to devote serious attention to the role played by resorts in French colonialism in the tropics.

Significantly, Jennings contends that the connection between empire and hydrotherapy has "profound repercussions" that extend beyond the history of medicine and colonialism (p. 4). His study highlights several interconnections in the histories of tourism, medicine, and colonialism. French colonial spas were designed to improve and safeguard the health of French colonists and the colonies became vast testing grounds for European medicine. At the same time, however, non-Western medical practices, even those that relied on therapeutic waters, were viewed by the Eurocentric colonizers as either "backward or superstitious" (p. 4). French colonists, for the most part, were more interested in visiting the spas, which were essentially microcosms of Vichy, than in visiting local historic sites. The spas, rather than attempting to forge a cultural bridge with indigenous cultures and foster cross cultural awareness, were bastions of European culture. The spas, in essence, were "a way of maintaining Frenchness, of assuaging the effects of acclimatization in a tropical setting, and of forestalling degeneration" (p. 35). The spas served as +'agents for reaffirming Frenchness overseas" (p. 83).

French colonization of the tropics, which began in earnest during the 1870s, resulted in high death rates from disease. Soldiers, missionaries, colonizers, and administrators were plagued by high mortality rates. To alleviate the health risks of living in the tropics, the French established spas "'wherever the colonial landscape provided the two necessary ingredients, spring water and cooler microclimates" (p. 39). Hydrotherapy entailed more than merely bathing in the mineral-rich waters. Treatments also included drinking the mineral water, mud baths, rectal and vaginal douches, and water pulverizations. According to Jennings, hydrotherapy often combines ++the roles of pilgrimage, sometimes taking on religious overtones.... with an element of tourism, a social function, and, in its nineteenth-century form, a quintessentially medicalized and structured regimen" (p. 41). Those not able to visit Vichy in the motherland found the colonial spas a welcome respite from the tropics. The French government hoped that the spas "'could help keep colonials not just free of disease, but also French" (p. 212).

Like the ancient Romans, the French established spas as symbols of empire. The French attempted to make colonial spas "a feature of a global Pax Gallica" (p. 213). The difference, however, was that the French spas were established as a result of "profound fears over European fragility in the tropical world" (p. 213). Jennings' well-written study, augmented by extensive field and archival research, sheds light on a previously unexamined component of French colonialism. As such, it should encourage scholars to re-think the nature and process of nineteenth-century European colonialism.

Michael R. Hall

Armstrong Atlantic State University
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Author:Hall, Michael R.
Publication:Journal of Third World Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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