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Building a Local Administration Abroad

The French Consulate in Salonica in the 19th Century

Mathieu Jestin

Abstract

Consulates, both in the 19th century and today, exist in a sort of hybrid space: Established by one sovereign entity in the territory of another, on the basis of exterritorial concessions, they depend on not one but two sets of legislation without being wholly defined by either one. This paper takes a local approach to a global phenomenon by considering the French consulate in Salonica (Thessaloniki) from the late 18th to the early 20th century from the perspective of a ›history of administrative reality‹. It shows how this consulate was located at the intersection of two state-building projects: those of France and the Ottoman Empire, both vying for control of the local space in which the consulate was active. While the French state strove to integrate its consulates into the internal logic of its expanding bureaucracy, and thus to extend its legal space beyond the borders of its own territory, the modernizing efforts of the Empire tended to reduce the immunities of exterritorial institutions with a view toward homogenizing and effectively controlling imperial space. The gaps and conflicts between the rival state-building agendas, as well as local factors beyond the control of either, created a local reality in which the consular personnel had the challenge and the opportunity to shape their own space of action. In this way, the consular district appears as a spatial entity somewhat resembling a state in miniature.