French Colonialism: roots, practices, and legacies

Theme: This course seeks to track the destabilizing practices and legacies of France’s colonization of Africa throughout the twentieth century through literature. Starting with Hampâté Bâ’s semi-biographical work, The Fortunes of Wangrin, students will get a sense of how the French colonial administration operated, and the Malian population’s negative view of it. Demonstrating early acts of resistance to the colonial regime will lead the class into examining the divergent views of Senghor and Césaire’s universalistic negritude movement with that of Frantz Fanon’s more combative approach to conducting anti-colonial struggles. From here the course shifts to Sembène’s stories and novels, which critique the newfound post-colonial state for its corruption and inability to live up to promises made upon first seeking independence a decade prior. Finally, this course will conclude with a discussion of Murambi, The Book of Bones to examine the persistence of violence and instability on the African continent and its rootedness in colonialism.

Course Goals:

Students should strive to:

  • Ameliorate their knowledge of Francophone African literature.
  • Put works from various historical moments and national cannons into conversation with one another.
  • Read works of fiction as pieces of historical discourse.

Week 1: Colonial Roots


Amadou Hampâté Bâ, tanslated by Aina Pavolini Taylor, The Fortunes of Wangrin: Indiana University Press, 2000 (originally published as L’etrange destin de Wangrin: Mali, 1973)

  • Introduction, Chapters 1-9, 18-19, 28-30, and the Postface


Claire Ducournau, “The ambivalent portrayal of colonization in the memoirs of Amadou Hampate Ba,” Research in African Literatures: Fall, 2015, Vol. 46 Issue 3, pgs. 68-84.


Week 2: Anti-Colonial Struggle and Negritude


Aimé Césaire, translated by Clayton Eshleman, Notebook of a Return to the Native Land: Wesleyan University Press, 2001 (originally published as Cahier d’un retour au pays natal: France, 1939).

Aimé Césaire, translated by Joan Pinkham, Discourse on Colonialism, 1973 (originally published as Discours sur le colonialisme: France: 1950).


Frantz Fanon, translated by Charles Lam Markmann, Black Skin, White Masks: Gove Press, 1994 (originally published as Peau noire, masques blancs: France, 1952).

  • Read the Introduction, and Chapters 1, 5-8.


Week 3: The Post-colonial state


Ousmane Sembène, translated by Clive Wake, The Money-Order with White Genesis: Heinemann Educational, 1972 (originally published as Le mandat, précédé de Vehi-Ciosane: Sénégal, 1966).


Film: Xala, directed by Ousmane Sembène: Sénégal, 1975, 123 minutes.

Thomas J. Lynn, “Politics, plunder, and postcolonial tricksters: Ousmane Sembène’s Xala,” International Journal of Francophone Studies: 2003, Vol. 6 Issue 3, pgs. 183-196.

Haidar Eid & Khaled Ghazel, “Footprints of Fanon in Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers and Sembene Ousamne’s Xala,” English in Africa: October 2008, Vol. 35 Issue 2, pgs. 151-161.


Week 4: Violence and Instability


Boubacar Boris Diop, Murambi, The Book of Bones: Indiana University Press 2008 (originally published as Murambi, le livre des ossements: Sénégal 2004).


Nyasha Mboti. “Violence in postcolonial African film.” Journal Of Literary Studies June, 2014, Vol. 30 Issue 2, pgs. 38-48.

Ogaga Okuyade. “Negotiating growth in turbulent-scapes: violence, secrecy and growth in Goretti Kyomuhendo’s Secrets No More.” Tydskrif Vir Letterkunde Spring, 2015, Vol. 52 Issue 2, pgs. 117-137.


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2 Responses to

  1. Chalice says:

    I really appreciate the way your course, rooted in history and discourse movements, has a defined narrative arc. I also like the way it focuses on Francophone African texts and history; this course’s design sounds sensible, approachable, and well planned. I can definitely imagine finishing your class and feeling like I got something rich and concise even though I didn’t read everything Francophone African literature has to offer.


  2. Anne Gulick says:

    Ditto to Chalice’s feedback on the clarity of the historical arc. Gary Wilder’s work would be great to look at, if you haven’t already; his first book, The French Imperial Nation-State, puts forth a fascinating account of the complexities of mid-20th-century Francophone thinkers’ relationship to France and French culture, and his second book, Freedom Time, conducts an insanely thorough comparative analysis of Césaire and Senghor.


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