The Making of the ‘Making of the Modern Internment Regime’

“Apparently, no one wants to know that contemporary history has created a new kind of human being — the kind that are put in concentration camps by their foes and in internment camps by their friends.” Hannah Arendt

In 2018, a group of young scholars at Colgate University embarked on an ambitious research program. Their aim was to document and interpret how contemporary paradigms of internment came to be. How, in other words, has the planet reached a situation in which over 25 million people fall under the care of the UNHCR, while millions of others are ‘detained’ or ‘interned’ under frameworks of state protection that typically involve the surrender of what Hannah Arendt once described as the ‘right to have rights’?”

Divided into 15 discrete installments, the story they tell traces the development of the modern internment regime from the period between the two world wars, to the near present. Of necessity, their collective history focuses on France, where exceptionalizations of the rule of law created new juridico-political frameworks that became the norm in many other places. Of necessity, their history also emphasizes a case study — Camp Rivesaltes, near Perpignan — because it holds the singular distinction of having served as a military camp, an internment and refugee camp, a de facto concentration camp linked to the ‘final solution,’ a POW camp and IDP camp, a detention center for African and Southeast Asian auxiliaries to the French army during wars of decolonization, and a Refugee center. In the course of its intermittent use over sixty years, Rivesaltes functioned as a laboratory for every conceivable model of internment.


“I feel a very unusual sensation. If it is not indigestion, I think it must be gratitude.” Benjamin Disraeli

The following publication is a collective effort. It required rigorous academic research, as well as field work on the part of its authors. Their work relied on significant degrees of support from Colgate University’s Benton Scholars Program, and particularly from its Director, Karen Harpp, who donated her time, energy, and experience to its execution. Technical assistance and instruction in the production of the embedded documentary videos (and much more) were provided by the Digital Learning and Media Center at Colgate, where the assistance of Sarah Kunze and Micah Dirkers proved invaluable.

The authors of ‘The Making of the Modern Internment Regime’ had the opportunity to visit the sites of internment and concentration camps in Collioure, Argeles-sur-mer, Rivesaltes, Le Vernet, and Gurs. At each of those sites they were met by the gifted historians and educators. Special thanks are due to Fernando Sanchez, of the L’Amicale des Anciens Internés Politiques et Résistants du camp de concentration du Vernet d’Ariège, and to Anne and Didier Machu, of L’Amicale du Camp de Gurs. The authors also engaged in research with primary sources at the Memorial de Rivesaltes in France, and the Museum of the Exiles (MUME) in La Jonquera, Spain, where they were afforded every courtesy by the staff of both institutions. They would particularly like to thank Elodie Montes, Nathalie Fourcade, and Lioba Niederhof of at the Memorial de Rivesaltes, and Pau Ruig, Luisa Jorda, and Miquel Serrano at the MUME. All of these new friends are cited and credited in the embedded videos that appear in each installment of this history.

Finally, In order to assess the contemporary condition of dispossession and of efforts to address it, the authors also consulted with the members of, in Stockholm. They would especially like to thank Marta Terne for facilitating their visit and explaining the aims of the social enterprise. In Stockholm, the authors were also briefed on immigration and refugee politics by Professor Dan Öberg, of the Swedish Defense University, and Anna Hammarstedt of Stockholm University. Many thanks to them as well. Finally, this publication would not have seen the light of day without the remarkable contributions of Professors Jennifer Spindel (University of Oklahoma), Amanda Bryan (Loyola University of Chicago), and Dr. Peter Tschirhart (Colgate University/Texas State University).

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