Utopia and Humanitarian Democracy
in France and the United States,

Thesis abstract

This PhD deals with intercultural relations between France and the United States during the years 1830-48. A proliferation of social movements developed during this period in both countries. American contemporaries as well as present historians call them (Antebellum) Reform. However, their French counterparts have never used one single word to refer to such social phenomena under the July Monarchy. This research sprang from this discrepancy, i.e. a similarity in events vs. a semantic difference. In order to investigate this discrepancy, four case studies are considered: two are devoted to comparisons (abolitionism and feminism), two focus on interactions (fourierism in the U.S.A. and the penitentiary reform in France). A central hypothesis serves as a thread throughout the four cases, using an approach which is both related to historiography (critical use of secondary sources) and to history (work on primary sources). It is tested in each of the four parts, which allows a better understanding of a specific aspect of the global situation, e.g. the preeminence of religious and political stakes in American abolitionism, the strong universalism in French feminism, a kind of "heterophobia" in America as shown by the importation of Fourier's ideology, and the need for the belief in national originality in the debates which took place in France on prison reform. Considered as a whole, the four cases allow us to verify the hypothesis: from 1830 to 1848, in spite of strong similarities and of the exchanges which did take place between the two countries, it is the two national dimensions which determine the ideas and behaviors of the reformers. During the second quarter of the nineteenth century, it happens that national cultures are more important than a transatlantic community of views. The conclusion of this research suggests that this tendency still exists; it also suggests extending the investigation towards the English-speaking area and to the "Romance languages" world.

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Creation: Jan. 25th, 2004 Latest modification: Jan. 25th, 2004