An introduction by project director Prof Claire H Griffiths
The project combines historical research, based primarily on archival material as outlined below, and contemporary research on regions of Africa that were formerly subject to French occupation and colonial rule.
Historical archival research
The principal archive housed on this site is called the SAVINEAU REPORT from French West Africa, 1937-8.
This extraordinary mine of information and insight into the colonial mind was brought to my attention thanks to the chief archivist of the Senegalese National Archives. He had discovered the SAVINEAU REPORT in a cupboard some years earlier in the 1990s and was looking for someone to work on it . One day, on returning to my desk, I found the complete crumbling copy 800-page archive waiting fro me. “This is important. Read it” he said.
The SAVINEAU REPORT recounts Denise Savineau’s travels across six countries of West Africa under French rule. It is the first and only in depth French account how women were experiencing life under colonial rule.
The SAVINEAU REPORT serves as the core document in a multidisciplinary analysis of the aftermath of empire in Africa. Thanks to the care and attention of the Senegalese National Archives, the original report was copied in time before it started to disintegrate. You will find the only complete digital copy on this website. There are translations into English of the final 200-page overview report in which Savineau summarises her key findings (See Report 18 under Savineau Report).
Of particular interest are her comments on penal codes and imprisonment, on food production and the loss of agricultural land to cash crops, on the African women she encountered on her mission who had enjoyed more equality and liberty in their ‘traditional’ African communities than did many European women in the early 20th century.
Research on Contemporary Francophone West Africa in the aftermath of Empire
In this project, research themes and lines of enquiry cross the colonial-postcolonial temporal divide. On other words, the years from and during the colonial era to this day are treated as a continuous timeline.
The themes that animated the SAVINEAU REPORT also carry over into the contemporary research field. We work from the hypothesis that the colonial infrastructure that gendered the economic, social and educational worlds in which people lived in the era of empire-building was not dismantled at Independence. Indeed, in large part, this infrastructure has still not been dismantled in the decades that followed the end of colonial rule in 1960. Women remain more vulnerable to poverty in these regions, girls remain less likely to access quality education.
These inequalities and injustices are being monitored in this project in relation to the global community’s commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030. These goals address all the key structural issues Savineau reported on in her critique of life in the colonies in the 1930s. She drew our attention to an absence of educational infrastructure for female literacy and a lack of facilities for girls in schools. She noted the disappearance of financial autonomy among women, increasingly excluded as they were from wage-earning roles in the colonial economy. Of particular interest also are her comments about those women she encountered on her mission who enjoyed more equality and liberty in their ‘traditional’ African communities than women in France and Europe in the early 20th century.
Research-led educational materials
The new resources uploaded on to this website include the English translation of Savineau’s key findings, and translations into English of six of her field reports, also by the project director. Digitised versions of all the original French reports are available as a corpus searchable with Voyant corpus search tools. We have also digitised copies of related correspondence on Savineau’s mission all housed in the Senegalese national archives (including correspondence from local governors, one of whom considered her a meddlesome troublemaker!). Some of these digitised materials are now being deployed by newly-qualified teachers of French in English schools teaching the new A level syllabus introduced in 2017. That new syllabus provides better opportunities to extend the study of French in schools beyond mainland France. In addition to French resources, teaching materials for use in Geography and History are available in the LEARN and ACTIVITIES sections of the site.
 As calculated by Vincent Bollenot, MA student, History Department, University of Lyon 11. (Research/Secondary sources and research bibliographies)
 Known as ‘Subaltern Studies’, Indian scholars of the British Raj have been at the forefront of our understanding of how colonial history and archives have traditionally reflected the interests and realities of those who were in power, not those over whom they ruled.
Denise Savineau, Report 8, Part 3, Section 12.