The Politics of French Colonial Archives
: Mainland France, French West Africa and the Indochinese Union, 1894-1960

  • Fabienne Chamelot

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

    Abstract

    This thesis aims to examine the politics of French colonial archives in the French empire with a specific focus on the Ministry of the Colonies, French West Africa and Indochina. Its chronological scope starts in 1894, date of the creation of the Ministry of the Colonies, until the independences
    in 1960.
    By engaging with the definition and theory of archives as stated by archival science in the exploration and retracing of the history of the archives, it shows that the notion of fonds is key to linking governance, power and archives. While a global formal archival policy could not be found in the French empire before 1946, which was when the decolonisation process (as opposed to independence) effectively started, some archives could be gathered and sometimes organised when needed for the running of daily tasks. They were created for exercising surveillance, the process of decision-making or setting up bureaucratic procedures. All these aspects demonstrate the multifaceted object that is an archive, which in this case had informative, political and administrative value.
    In addition, this thesis uncovers the organisation of power within the colonial governing body, beyond official discourses and narrative, by identifying the organisation and ensemble of archives and their interdependence across the French empire. It will show that the central core of French colonial authority was an ever-shifting capacity rather than a location or a specific unchanging
    governing body. It allowed for a complex balance between ensuring administrative continuity between the colonies and mainland France while also maintaining a distance between the colonies and the French national Republic. This research therefore contributes to “archives as an object of study” in its own right, by shedding light on their use as governing tools in the French colonial context. In doing so, it contributes to filling gaps in the history of archival science as well as French colonial history.
    Date of Award26 Jul 2022
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorTony Chafer (Supervisor), Natalya Vince (Supervisor) & Brigitte Leucht (Supervisor)

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