Good Shepherd School. Abomey, Benin
Imperial Pasts and Franco-African Futures: West African Catholic Education, 1946-1975.
Book manuscript in preparation.
When the French empire fell, French schools remained standing. Dotting the West African landscape, they were not only relics of an imperial past, but also beacons of a Franco-African future. Many still operate today. West African schoolchildren, clergy, teachers, and school leaders shaped these schools as heterogeneous spaces that crucially conditioned the formation of individual, national, and regional senses of belonging and modes of civic engagement. Caught between empire- and nation-building, expediency and ideology, social cohesion and social difference, these schools—and those who funded, oversaw, taught, and learned in them—are the focus of Imperial Pasts and Franco-African Futures: West African Catholic Education, 1946-1975.
This work considers not only the perspective of French educational experts, planners, missionaries and educators, but also reflections on the significance of education in their lives by Catholic school graduates whom I interviewed in Senegal and Benin. It explores tensions between religious and secular visions of education, over the use of the French language in African education, between the desire to recruit African teachers and the continued reliance on French coopérants, and between both UNESCO and the Catholic Church’s influence on education and France’s focus on its own role in its former colonies.
“Triangulating Between the Church, State, and Postcolony: Coopérants in Independent West Africa” Cahiers d’Études africaines, LVI (1-2) 221-222 (2016): 219-241.
After decolonization, young French nationals, known as coopérants, went to West Africa to teach under the French development program Cooperation. France’s investment in the culturally charged realm of education demonstrates its deepening ties with West Africa at the very moment that many spoke of loosening or severing them. While scholars often look at Franco-African relations from an official or diplomatic angle, this article reveals how these relations were as much a product of everyday negotiations among coopérants, local teachers, clergy, and transnational Catholic organizations as they were shaped by the French and African governments’ decisions. Coopérants played many roles: they were the cultural currency of a newly technocratic French culture, religious representatives of the Church, putative experts, and indispensable teachers in countries not able to fully staff their schools with locals. Coopérants’ role reveals how France’s presence abroad after decolonization was intertwined with the Church, even in majority Muslim and multi-religious countries such as Senegal and Dahomey. France’s involvement and coopérants’ presence have had important consequences for education in the region, including on the curriculum, the continuation of French as the language of instruction, and the prominent place that many Cooperation-funded Catholic schools maintain today.
Catholic Schools as ‘a Nation in Miniature’: Catholic Civism in Senegal and Benin, 1960–1970s.
Revised and Resubmitted, The Journal of African History.
The habits and values originated during the colonial period and inculcated in West African Catholic schools provided a blueprint for Catholic-inflected civic engagement in the early independence period. West African Catholic archives and alumni interviews demonstrate the self-proclaimed pillars of what I term Catholic civism: public service, self-discipline, moral restraint, honesty, and community. Students of various faiths, regions, ethnicities, and class backgrounds lived together in single-sex boarding schools that encouraged heterogeneity and shaped gender-specific notions of civic duty. These students saw themselves as a distinct social group, and their experiences help explain how Catholic schools thrived from the colonial to independent period. Although historians have examined how colonial-era schools formed the region’s elite, few have looked at the period after independence. By focusing on students who graduated largely between 1966 and 1972, this article highlights how they applied their Catholic school learning to their lives and careers in the early decades after independence.
Below the Archival Threshold in West Africa: Oral Methods for Writing New Colonial and Post–Imperial Histories. Submitted, French History, August 2017.
Based on the author’s experiences conducting interviews in Senegal and Benin, as well as teaching interviewing techniques in the classroom, this article contends that we should conduct oral histories and steep ourselves in the places we research to mitigate against the shortcomings of the (post)colonial archive. Oral history centers on the formerly colonized as the knowledge producers, rather than mere objects of study. Arguing against the written versus oral dichotomy, this article shifts the focus to toggling between three registers: the oral, the written and the place–based, such that they inform one another. Through reading and conducting oral interviews, researchers and students move below the archival threshold to become acquainted with history on an immediate and relatable human scale, practicing deep, sustained listening in a fast–paced and noisy world.