New Perspectives in African History: The Case of Francophone Africa

On April 13, 2022, the Institute for International and Area Studies (IIAS) of Tsinghua University hosted the second Sub-Saharan African studies lecture of the spring semester 2022 online. Entitled “New Perspectives in African History: The Case of Francophone Africa”, the lecture was delivered by Dr. Romain Tiquet, a researcher at CNRS and IMAF, and it presided over by Chen Honglai, a Ph.D candidate at the IIAS. Students from the IIAS, and scholars and students from universities at home and abroad joined the online lecture.

The lecture was divided into three parts. Firstly, Dr. Tiquet reviewed the writing course of African history since the 1930s, with particular emphasis on the evolution of Francophone Africa. He elaborated on the writing characteristics of African history at various stages and respectively introduced the “Colonial Library” writing Africa from the perspective of colonizers from the 1930s to the 1950s, the historiography of African nationalism from the 1960s to the 1970s, the Marxist history from the 1970s to the 1990s and its focus on class struggle and the “bottom-up” writing of daily life history, and other social history studies in Africa from the 1990s to present.

Secondly, Dr. Tiquet took his own doctoral research on forced labor in West Africa as an example to introduce a new generation of French historians’ perspective in writing African history. He emphasized that a research topic will never lose the value of being further studied just because of the abundance of existing research. On the contrary, it can be explored from new perspectives. He then presented his research findings from the definition, geographical environment and social history of forced labor, as well as other aspects other than forced labor. Thirdly, Dr. Tiquet pointed out that there are three challenges in writing African history: to break through the study of colonial history, to enrich the variety and scope of historical materials, and to decentralize and despecialize African history. First of all, it should be noted that the colonial period is only part of the “long history” of Africa, and that African history needs more studies of different periods and longer duration (longue durée), e.g. African history after 1960. Furthermore, the study of African history, especially in French-speaking countries and regions, still relies to a large extent on colonial archives. Historical materials of different types and regions should be used to enrich the understanding of African history. He added, this does not mean that the colonial archives have no value but scholars need to interpret them more carefully. Finally, he stressed that the writing of African history should be decentralized and despecialized, focusing on richer and more diverse research objects and topics.

After the lecture, Dr. Tiquet interacted with online audience about the content he had covered, and further discussed the selection of research topic, literature materials, African history research in China, etc..

Romain Tiquet received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Université Paris I – Panthéon-Sorbonne, and his doctorate from the Humboldt–Universitat zu Berlin. He is currently a research fellow at CNRS and IMAF. He also serves as the editor-in-chief of Revue d’Histoire Contemporaine de l’Afrique and Émulations, Revue de sciences sociales. His main research areas include West African history, de-colonization history, maintenance of order, marginal population and history of madness. He is the author of Travail forcé et mobilisation de la main-d’oeuvre au Sénégal : années 1920-1960 (Rennes, 2019) and the co-author of Socialismes en Afrique (Paris, 2021). He has published a number of papers on journals such as Politique Africaine, Afrika Zamani, Afrique Contemporaine, Vingtième siècle, Revue d’Histoire, International Review of Social History and Histoire, économie & société.

Edited by: Dong Hui
Typeset by: Cheng Yao
Proofread by: Sub-Saharan African Studies research group