Contesting French West Africa

Contesting French West Africa

Battles over Schools and the Colonial Order, 1900–1950

Harry Gamble

France Overseas: Studies in Empire and Decolonization Series

378 pages
5 photographs, 6 maps, index


September 2017


$50.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

September 2017


$50.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

September 2017


$50.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

After the turn of the twentieth century, schools played a pivotal role in the construction of French West Africa. But as this dynamic, deeply researched study reveals, the expanding school system also became the site of escalating conflicts. As French authorities worked to develop truncated schools for colonial “subjects,” many African students and young elites framed educational projects of their own. Weaving together a complex narrative and rich variety of voices, Harry Gamble explores the high stakes of colonial education.

With the disruptions of World War II, contests soon took on new configurations. Seeking to forestall postwar challenges to colonial rule, French authorities showed a new willingness to envision broad reforms, in education as in other areas. Exploiting the new context of the Fourth Republic and the extension of citizenship, African politicians demanded an end to separate and inferior schools. Contesting French West Africa critically examines the move toward educational integration that took shape during the immediate postwar period. Growing linkages to the metropolitan school system ultimately had powerful impacts on the course of decolonization and the making of postcolonial Africa.


Author Bio

Harry Gamble is a professor of French and francophone studies at the College of Wooster in Ohio. 



"This informative, accessible, and well-written book highlights the centrality of schools in matters of power and governance and offers new insights into the political views of Senghor. It will appeal to readers who have an interest in the history of modern France, the French Empire, West Africa, and colonial schooling."—Kelly M. Duke Bryant, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"In this compelling, well-written study, Harry Gamble . . . shows that battles over schooling, either within the French colonial state or between Africans and French officials, encapsulated broader debates about the nature, purpose, and future of French rule in West Africa. . . . Gamble's periodization, eschewing the typical dividing points of 1914 and 1940, allows him to construct a nuanced picture of the ebbs and flows of French policy and African activism over time. . . . He consistently shows how colonial officials on the spot evaded or mitigated direction from the center and/or how Africans shaped the outcome of a particular policy."—Elizabeth A. Foster, International Journal of African Historical Studies

"Contesting French West Africa provides critical insight into colonial policy and practice. It will be essential reading for colonial historians, and provides critical context for readers of accounts such as the one written by Camara Laye."—Kathleen Keller, H-France Review

"This monograph does much to illuminate the connections between education and imperial politics in French West Africa, adding to a growing English language literature on the topic. Covering significant chronological reach and political depth, Contesting French West Africa suggests that those working on education in the region today would do well to examine this history."—Rachel Kantrowitz, French Politics, Culture and Society

"This book presents a well-organized trajectory of colonial education reforms and policies that shaped French West Africa for over half a century from both African and European perspectives."—Benjamin Sparks, French Review

Contesting French West Africa deftly highlights the tensions, contradictions, and unique features of a complex colonial schooling system. Harry Gamble is to be commended for his engagement with many themes, from the sharp contrasts between urban and rural contexts to the windows of cultural opportunity that opened for Africans during World War II.”—Eric T. Jennings, Distinguished Professor in the History of France and the Francophonie at the University of Toronto and author of Free French Africa in World War II: The African Resistance

Contesting French West Africa brings to the fore mechanisms of racial segregation, exploding any remaining myths about the assimilationist function of French colonial schools. Harry Gamble skillfully analyzes the history of colonial education alongside the emergence of Negritude. I know of no other historical work that accomplishes this so deftly and seamlessly. Gamble’s book will enable students of French colonial literature and culture to also gain a deeper understanding of the structure and politics of the colonial school.”—Janet Horne, associate professor of French at the University of Virginia and author of A Social Laboratory for Modern France: The Musée Social and the Rise of the Welfare State

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Conflicting Visions: Framing French West Africa
2. The Lessons of War: Rethinking the Originaires
3. Toward the Interior: Rural Schools and Colonial Reform
4. Reorienting African Schoolteachers: Agents of the Future
5. Léopold Sédar Senghor and the Popular Front: New Possibilities for Reform
6. The National Revolution in AOF: Debating the Future during the War Years
7. Gaullist Hesitations: From the Brazzaville Conference to the Liberation
8. The Education of African “Citizens”: Struggles over Integration

Also of Interest