Informants and Police Spies: Documenting Inter-Racial Intimacies in 1930s Paris

Tessie Liu, Northwestern University

When the empire reconvened in the French metropolis, the twin anxieties about radical politics and liaisons between colonial men and French women produced a near avalanche of reports from local informants and police spies. At first sight, the quantity of documents (now preserved in the Archives of the Prefecture of Police in Paris and the Centre d’Archives d’Outre-Mer in Aix-en-Provence) heightens the expectations of would-be researchers hoping to finally access the yearnings and comforts of the people under surveillance. This presentation discusses why ultimately such expectations proved quixotic and even naïve. Despite the sensationalism of the press and the public panic over notorious mixings in dance halls and jazz clubs, not to mention the well-publicized marriages and affairs, how do we then understand the generic quality and flatness of the rapportage given the urgency of the political demands for scrutiny? How do historians interpret this abundance that do not yield much information? Beginning with the dutiful markings of names, places, and national or territorial origins, the rote phrases and skeletal descriptions in the sources, what complement of other sources (though less voluminous) can we assemble to reveal the passions, and struggles of these relationships that are recorded but not made flesh?

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 123. Divining Desires through Institutions: The Possibilities and Limits of Data