Current Institutional Affiliation
Professor, History, Gustavus Adolphus College

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2004
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Colonial Suspects: Suspicious Persons and Police Surveillance in French West Africa, 1920-1958

This historical research project uses "suspicious persons" as a category of analysis to understand French colonialism and urban culture in French West Africa(FWA) from 1920-1958. It considers reasons certain individuals came under suspicion to understand how the French conceived of their mission in West Africa and discover perceived vulnerabilities within the French administration. In addition, the project seeks out the suspects themselves as important actors. Within the interactions between authorities and suspects the project will trace the development of a "culture of suspicion" that was crucial to urban colonial culture in French West Africa. The project's methodology involves analysis of four sets of archival documents: Administrative (17G) and Police archives (21G) of the Government General of FWA (located in Dakar, and on microfilm in Aix-en-Provence); the SLOTFOM files on the surveillance of Africans in metropolitan France (Aix), the Colonial Ministry's archives (Aix) and the Police documents of colonial Senegal (Series F) in Dakar. These documents will allow for an overview of surveillance in FW A, a comparison between surveillance in FW A and France, and a micro-study of surveillance of suspects in the city of Dakar. The project proposes two sites of research in order to consult all the necessary documents. I will spend seven months in Aix-en-Provence, working at the Archives d'Outre-Mer and with Professor Catherine Atlan at the Universite de Provence. I then propose to spend five months in Dakar working at the Archives Nationales du Senegal and participating in a seminar on marginality with Ibrahima Thioub at the Universite Cheikh Anta Diop. This project on suspicious persons, surveillance and urban culture in French West Africa reveals much about French colonialism; social, cultural and political lives of various suspects; but also confronts the themes of transnationalism in colonial society, the limits of repression, and identity formation in FW A.