On the Move at the End of Empire. Decolonizing Spaces and Infrastructures of Leisure in the Global South, 1960-1990

Jessica Lynne Pearson (Macalester College)


As a growing field of scholarly inquiry, decolonization history has largely focused on high politics, state-led nation-building projects, and elite experiences. This project, by contrast, explores how the end of empire shaped the ways ordinary people moved through the world. Pearson focuses on how they engaged in the tourism industry, either as leisure travelers themselves or as pilots, flight attendants, hotel or resort employees, travel agents, and tour guides. In her presentation she will consider the slow and contested process of decolonizing both infrastructures and spaces of leisure in Africa, South Asia, and the Caribbean, considering both travel in the air and resort culture on the ground. Pearson argues that for some citizens of newly sovereign nations, the rapidly expanding global tourism industry represented an opportunity to imagine a world founded on empathy and equality – rather than on hierarchies of race and civilization – as well as a chance to carve out their economic autonomy from their former colonizers. This rhetoric of optimism, however often collided with deeply ingrained racism and with ongoing dependencies on the former metropole. The significant obstacles and disappointments that travelers from the Global South encountered are a testament to the tenacity of colonial structures and mentalities, decades after the achievement of formal independence.

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About the Speaker

Jessica Pearson joined the Macalester faculty in 2016 and is an Assistant Professor of European History, with a focus on Europe in the world. A Minnesota native, Professor Pearson received her BA in History and French at Kalamazoo College and she received her PhD in History and French Studies from New York University in 2013. At Macalester she teaches courses on women and gender, race and immigration, empire and decolonization, public health, internationalism, and contemporary Europe in global perspective. 

As a researcher, Professor Pearson explores the history of European decolonization from a global vantage point. In her first book, “The Colonial Politics of Global Health: France and the United Nations in Postwar Africa” (Harvard University Press, 2018), Pearson uses global public health as a lens to explore the clash between internationalism and imperialism in French Africa in the 1940s and 1950s. Currently, Pearson is working on a new book project, entitled “Traveling to the End of Empire: Leisure Tourism in the Era of Decolonization,” which will be a global exploration of tourism and European decolonization in the second half of the twentieth century. She has conducted archival research in Aix-en-Provence, Dakar, London, Nantes, New York, Paris, and Washington D.C. 

Prior to joining the history department at Macalester, Professor Pearson was an Assistant Professor of European Studies at the University of Oklahoma’s College of International Studies, and from 2013-2014 she was a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at Tulane University in New Orleans.