Berny Sebe

Colleges, School and Institutes

Research interests

My research interests lie mainly in the history of nineteenth and twentieth century European imperialisms, decolonization and post-colonialism, with particular emphasis on the popular reception of imperialism and Empire-related subjects in the metropolitan centres and the multiple ways in which the colonial past still contributes to shaping he post-colonial present.

My book Heroic Imperialists in Africa: The Promotion of British and French Colonial Heroes, 1870-1939 looks at the processes of selection, construction and promotion of colonial heroes in Britain and in France between 1870 and the Second World War. It has led me to consider the variety of media which were used to promote the imperial idea in the metropolises, the networks of producers and systems of patronage which sustained them, and the reception of heroic propaganda by various types of audience. Drawing upon a variety of unpublished archives, it also analysed the various political, economic and individual interests which these cultural constructions served. This research has given rise to a follow-on project on the post-colonial reputation of European imperial heroes in Africa and in the former metropoles, which has given rise, among others, to a special issue of the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History (November 2014) and a book, Decolonising Imperial Heroes: Cultural Legacies of the British and French Empires (2016), co-edited with Max Jones, Bertrand Taithe and Peter Yeandle. I am also the co-investigator of the AHRC-funded 'Hero Project' which explores and re-appraises the role of the hero in twenty-first century Britain. Working with Abbie Garrington (University of Newcastle, principal investigator) and Natasha Danilova (University of Aberdeen, co-investigator), I am particularly interested in the place of the British imperial hero in the post-colonial age.

I also work on the legacy of Europe’s colonial past upon the EU and in its relations with the rest of the world. Developing comparative approaches to European imperialisms allows us to evaluate the extent to which colonial expansion stemmed from a core of shared assumptions and values while exacerbating political and economic rivalries, and how these conflicting roots and effects are negotiated in the post-colonial world against which the EU took shape. As part of this strand, I have co-edited with Kalypso Nicolaidis and Gabi Maas Echoes Of Empire: Memory, Identity and the Legacy of Imperialism (2015)

I am the Principal Investigator of the AHRC-funded research project 'Outposts of Conquest: the History and Legacy of the Fortresses of the Steppe and the Sahara in Comparative Perspective, from the 1840s to the present-day'. Through the case-study of colonial fortifications, this joint project with Alexander Morrison (New College, Oxford) analyses the strategies of conquest and administration of two Christian powers which encroached at roughly the same time into arid environments populated by predominantly Muslim nomads. More information on www.birmingham.ac.uk/forts. This project has given rise to a high-impact circulating exhibition entitled Empire of Emptiness: Fortresses of the Sahara and the Steppe.

On a more general level, I am interested in the history of Third- and Fourth-Republic France, and in Franco-British relations since the mid-nineteenth century.

I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) and the Higher Education Academy, and I have been a member of the AHRC's Peer Review College since 2012. I am also a Member of the Board of the French charity La Rahla/Les Sahariens. In Birmingham, I am an active member of the FRANCOPOCO Network and I co-ordinate the Postcolonial Birmingham research network, which I founded.

Areas of interest

  • British and French imperial history; decolonisation; post-colonialism
  • British and French popular imperialism
  • Comparative European colonialisms
  • History of the Sahara from 1880 to the present
  • Late modern French history; Franco-British relations

Biography

I was born in Nice (Provence, France) and partly brought up in the Sahara desert, where I have been travelling since I was a child. For that reason, I was educated through the CNED (National Centre for Distance Learning, France). During that period, I became closely associated to the activities of my father, the French desert photographer and publisher Alain Sèbe, with whom I still regularly publish photographic books. I studied for my first degree (licence) and Master’s (maîtrise) at the University of Aix-en-Provence, and for my doctorate at the University of Oxford (D.Phil in Imperial and Commonwealth History). During my time there, I also organised the Oxford University Expedition to Mauritania. My first full-time academic position was at the university of Durham, where I was a lecturer in African and imperial history (2007-8) until I joined the University of Birmingham in 2008.

Willingness to take PhD students

Yes

PhD projects

I am happy to offer postgraduate research supervision in the following fields:

Colonial and Postcolonial Studies
British and French imperial history
Decolonisation and the End of Empire
Colonial memory
Nineteenth and Twentieth French History

I supervise or co-supervises MA dissertation students in the above mentioned areas, and perform the role of PhD supervisor for several PhD theses:

Dunya Ismael (as lead supervisor): ‘Retro-cultural translation: neutralising cultural capital accumulation and power balance in the context of post-2003 Iraq’
Ann Kiatkowski (as lead supervisor), ‘Les Filles du Roi: Gender and Migration in French North America’
Sam Antony Kocheri Clement (as lead supervisor): ‘Benevolent Proselytes or Disguised Imperialists? Cultural Imperialism and Missionary Activities in India 1813–1900’
Sonia Lamrani (as lead supervisor): ‘Self-Orientalism in the Post-colonial novel’
Mouna Lekkal (as lead supervisor): ‘Representation of the Algerian War of Independence in the British Media: the BBC, the FLN and decolonisation’
Sarah Mechkarini (as lead supervisor): ‘Alienation and Identity in Anglophone and Francophone African Novels: Mouloud Mammeri’s Le Sommeil du juste, Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong'o’s The River Between, Assia Djebar’s L’Amour, la fantasia and Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions’
Geoffrey Reis (as co-supervisor): ‘Desert voices: literary representations of the Sahara since the colonial period and beyond’
Degasian Rutherford (as lead supervisor): ‘Quasi-Ornamentalism in the Urban Landscape of Colonial Hong Kong: Appropriation, Imperial construction and Resistance, 1840 – Present.
Sarah Pymm (as co-supervisor): ‘L'aventure humaine: Sprituality, myth and power in the travel writings of Louise Weiss’
Sourour Salhi (as lead supervisor): ‘Towards a global appraisal of the African past: A Postcolonial Comparative Study of Franco-Algerian and Anglo-Nigerian Literatures from Subalternity to ‘Stable Hybridity’
Amina Zarzi (as lead supervisor): ‘The Representation of the Algerian Sahara desert in the French Colonial Imagination and its Resonance in the Expressions of Identity of Postcolonial Algerian Literature’
Completed theses:
Claire Peters, ‘Interdisciplinary approaches to the cultural memory of the Occupation and the Algerian War: Representations of the City in Modiano, Haneke and Maspero’ (September 2013
Sophie Tanniou, ‘Postcolonial Francophone Literature from West and Equatorial Africa: Colonial Heritage and Postcolonial Histories’ (July 2015).