On today’s New Books in History, we sit down with Dr. Nimisha Barton to discuss her new book, Reproductive Citizens: Gender, Immigration, and the State in Modern France (Cornell University Press, 2020). This conversation is a perfect supplemental teaching tool to assign a class reading Reproductive Citizens as is the impressive digital appendices that Dr. Barton created to accompany her work. Building on the massive amount of primary and secondary source material that Dr. Barton examined during research, she built a digital repository and archive for students and researchers to use. Included in these appendices are statistics on foreigners in France and descriptions of sources as well as methodologies. A testament to Dr. Barton’s commitment to diversity and accessibility in education, she provides this resource free to all in the hopes that students and researchers studying women, gender, sexuality, and/or migration can benefit from them. To learn more, please visit this website.
About Reproductive Citizens: In the familiar tale of mass migration to France from 1880 onwards, we know very little about the hundreds of thousands of women who formed a critical part of those migration waves. In Reproductive Citizens, Nimisha Barton argues that their relative occlusion in the historical record hints at a larger and more problematic oversight: the role of sex and gender in shaping the experiences of migrants to France before the Second World War. Barton's compelling history of social citizenship demonstrates how, through the routine application of social policies, state and social actors worked separately towards a shared goal: repopulating France with immigrant families. Filled with voices gleaned from census reports, municipal statistics, naturalization dossiers, court cases, police files, and social worker registers, Reproductive Citizens shows how France welcomed foreign-born men and women, mobilizing naturalization, family law, social policy, and welfare assistance to ensure they would procreate, bearing French-assimilated children.
Barton concludes that, in return for generous social provisions and refuge in dark times, immigrants joined the French nation through marriage and reproduction, breadwinning and child-rearing—in short, through families and family-making—which made them more French than even formal citizenship status could.
Julia Gossard is an Assistant Professor of History, Utah State University.