French colonial empires
| French Colonial Empire |
Empire colonial français
French conquests and territories over the centuries
|Political structure||Colonial Empire|
|-||Cartier planted the French flag at Gaspé Bay||24 July 1534|
|-||Louisiana Purchase by Napoleon Bonaparte||30 April 1803|
|-||Independence of Vanuatu||30 July 1980|
|Area||12,347,000 km² (4,767,203 sq mi)|
|Today part of|
The French colonial empire was constituted of the overseas colonies, protectorates and mandate territories that came under French rule from the 17th century onward. A distinction is generally made between the "First colonial empire", that existed until 1814 and by which time most of it had been lost, and the "Second colonial empire", which began with the conquest of Algier in 1830 and came to an end with the granting of independence to Algeria in 1962. By 1900, it had become the world's second-largest colonial empire, albeit far behind the British Empire both in terms of population and size,. On the eve of WW II, it covered some 12,300,000 km² of land, with a population of 110 million (including France).
In rivalry with England, France began to establish colonies in North America, the Caribbean, and India, following the Spanish and Portuguese successes during the Age of Discovery. A series of wars with Great Britain during the 18th century and early 19th century stripped away most of its first empire.
France took control of Algeria in 1840 but began in earnest to rebuild its worldwide empire after 1870, concentrating chiefly in West Africa, with important holdings in Asia, Latin America and the Pacific. Republicans, at first hostile to empire, became supportive. As it developed the new empire took on roles of trade with France, especially supplying raw materials and purchasing manufactured items, as well as the lending prestige to the motherland and spreading French civilization and language, and the Catholic religion. It also provided manpower in the World Wars.
It became a moral mission to list the world up to French standards by bringing Christianity and French culture. In 1884 the leading exponent of colonialism, Jules Ferry declared; "The higher races have a right over the lower races, they have a duty to civilize the inferior races." Full citizenship rights - assimilation - were offered, although in reality "assimilation was always receding [and] the colonial populations treated like subjects not citizens." France sent large numbers of settlers to North Africa, and they in turn became a powerful political force in Paris.
In World War II, Charles de Gaulle and the Free French used the overseas colonies as bases from which they liberated France. However after 1945 anti-colonial movements began to challenge European authority. France fought and lost bitter wars in Vietnam and Algeria in the 1950s. Its settlers and many local supporters relocated to France. Nearly all of France's colonies gained independence by 1960, but France retained great financial and diplomatic influence. The remaining small territories were integrated into France as overseas departments and territories. These now total altogether 123,150 km² (47,548 sq. miles), which amounts to only 1% of the pre-1939 French colonial empire's area, with 2.7 million people living in them in 2011.
- 1 First French colonial empire
- 2 Second French colonial empire (1830–1960)
- 3 Civilising mission
- 4 Decolonization (20th century)
- 5 Demographics
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes and references
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
First French colonial empire
During the 16th century, the French colonization of the Americas began.
Excursions of Giovanni da Verrazzano and Jacques Cartier in the early 16th century, as well as the frequent voyages of French boats and fishermen to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland throughout that century, were the precursors to the story of France's colonial expansion. But Spain's jealous protection of its foreign monopoly, and the further distractions caused in France itself in the later 16th century by the French Wars of Religion, prevented any constant efforts by France to settle colonies. Early French attempts to found colonies in 1612 at São Luís ("France Équinoxiale"), and in Brazil, in 1555 at Rio de Janeiro ("France Antarctique") and in Florida (including Fort Caroline in 1562) were not successful, due to a lack of official interest and to Portuguese and Spanish vigilance.
The story of France's colonial empire truly began on 27 July 1605, with the foundation of Port Royal in the colony of Acadia in North America, in what is now Nova Scotia, Canada. A few years later, in 1608, Samuel De Champlain founded Quebec, which was to become the capital of the enormous, but sparsely settled, fur-trading colony of New France (also called Canada).
New France had a rather small population, which resulted from more emphasis being placed on the fur trade rather than agricultural settlements. Due to this emphasis, the French relied heavily on creating friendly contacts with the local First Nations community. Without the appetite of New England for land, and by relying solely on Aboriginals to supply them with fur at the trading posts, the French composed a complex series of military, commercial, and diplomatic connections. These became the most enduring alliances between the French and the First Nation community. The French were, however, under pressure from religious orders to convert them to Catholicism.
Although, through alliances with various Native American tribes, the French were able to exert a loose control over much of the North American continent, areas of French settlement were generally limited to the St. Lawrence River Valley. Prior to the establishment of the 1663 Sovereign Council, the territories of New France were developed as mercantile colonies. It is only after the arrival of intendant Jean Talon in 1665 that France gave its American colonies the proper means to develop population colonies comparable to that of the British. But there was relatively little interest in colonialism in France, which concentrated rather on dominance within Europe, and for most of its history, New France was far behind the British North American colonies in both population and economic development. Acadia itself was lost to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
In 1699, French territorial claims in North America expanded still further, with the foundation of Louisiana in the basin of the Mississippi River. The extensive trading network throughout the region connected to Canada through the Great Lakes, was maintained through a vast system of fortifications, many of them centred in the Illinois Country and in present-day Arkansas.
As the French empire in North America grew, the French also began to build a smaller but more profitable empire in the West Indies. Settlement along the South American coast in what is today French Guiana began in 1624, and a colony was founded on Saint Kitts in 1625 (the island had to be shared with the English until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, when it was ceded outright). The Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique founded colonies in Guadeloupe and Martinique in 1635, and a colony was later founded on Saint Lucia by (1650). The food-producing plantations of these colonies were built and sustained through slavery, with the supply of slaves dependent on the African slave trade. Local resistance by the indigenous peoples resulted in the Carib Expulsion of 1660. France's most important Caribbean colonial possession was established in 1664, when the colony of Saint-Domingue (today's Haiti) was founded on the western half of the Spanish island of Hispaniola. In the 18th century, Saint-Domingue grew to be the richest sugar colony in the Caribbean. The eastern half of Hispaniola (today's Dominican Republic) also came under French rule for a short period, after being given to France by Spain in 1795.
Africa and Asia
French colonial expansion wasn't limited to the New World. In Senegal in West Africa, the French began to establish trading posts along the coast in 1624. In 1664, the French East India Company was established to compete for trade in the east. With the decay of the Ottoman Empire, in 1830 the French seized Algiers, thus beginning the colonization of French North Africa.
During the First World War, after France had suffered heavy casualties on the Western Front, they began to recruit soldiers from their African empire. By 1917, France had recruited 270,000 African soldiers. Their most decorated regiments came from Morocco, but due to the pacification going on at the time they were only able to recruit 23,000 Moroccans. African soldiers had success in the battle of Verdun and failure in the offensive of Nivelle, but in general regardless of their usefulness French generals did not think highly of their African troops.
After the First World War, France's African war aims were not being decided by her cabinet or the official mind of the colonial ministry, but rather the leaders of the colonial movement in French Africa. The first occasion of this occurring happened in 1915-1916, when Francois Georges-Picot (both a diplomat and part of a colonial dynasty) met with the British to discuss the division of Cameroon. Picot proceeded with negotiations with neither the oversight of the French president nor the cabinet. What resulted was Britain giving nine tenths of Cameroon to the French in where Picot emphasized the demands of the French colonist over the French cabinet. This policy of French colonial leaders determining France's African war aims can be seen throughout much of France's empire.
Colonies were established in India in Chandernagore (1673) and Pondichéry in the south east (1674), and later at Yanam (1723), Mahe (1725), and Karikal (1739) (see French India). Colonies were also founded in the Indian Ocean, on the Île de Bourbon (Réunion, 1664), Isle de France (Mauritius, 1718), and the Seychelles (1756).
Colonial conflict with Britain
In the middle of the 18th century, a series of colonial conflicts began between France and Britain, which ultimately resulted in the destruction of most of the first French colonial empire and the near complete expulsion of France from the Americas. These wars were the War of the Austrian Succession (1744–1748), the Seven Years' War (1756–1763), the War of the American Revolution (1778–1783), the French Revolutionary Wars (1793–1802) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815). It may even be seen further back in time to the first of the French and Indian Wars. This cyclic conflict is known as the Second Hundred Years' War.
Although the War of the Austrian Succession was indecisive – despite French successes in India under the French Governor-General Joseph François Dupleix and Europe under Marshal Saxe – the Seven Years' War, after early French successes in Minorca and North America, saw a French defeat, with the numerically superior British (over one million to about 50 thousand French settlers) conquering not only New France (excluding the small islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon), but also most of France's West Indian (Caribbean) colonies, and all of the French Indian outposts.
While the peace treaty saw France's Indian outposts, and the Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe restored to France, the competition for influence in India had been won by the British, and North America was entirely lost – most of New France was taken by Britain (also referred to as British North America, except Louisiana, which France ceded to Spain as payment for Spain's late entrance into the war (and as compensation for Britain's annexation of Spanish Florida). Also ceded to the British were Grenada and Saint Lucia in the West Indies. Although the loss of Canada would cause much regret in future generations, it excited little unhappiness at the time; colonialism was widely regarded as both unimportant to France, and immoral.
Some recovery of the French colonial empire was made during the French intervention in the American Revolution, with Saint Lucia being returned to France by the Treaty of Paris in 1783, but not nearly as much as had been hoped for at the time of French intervention. True disaster came to what remained of France's colonial empire in 1791 when Saint Domingue (the Western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola), France's richest and most important colony, was riven by a massive slave revolt, caused partly by the divisions among the island's elite, which had resulted from the French Revolution of 1789.
The slaves, led eventually by Toussaint Louverture and then, following his capture by the French in 1801, by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, held their own against French, Spanish, and British opponents, and ultimately achieved independence as Empire of Haiti in 1804 (Haiti became the first black republic in the world, much earlier than any of the future African nations although it was not until the 19th century that Europeans began establishing colonies in Africa).
In the meanwhile, the newly resumed war with Britain by the French, resulted in the British capture of practically all remaining French colonies. These were restored at the Treaty of Amiens in 1802, but when war resumed in 1803, the British soon recaptured them. France's repurchase of Louisiana in 1800 came to nothing, as the final success of the Haitian revolt convinced Bonaparte that holding Louisiana would not be worth the cost, leading to its sale to the United States in 1803 (the Louisiana Purchase). The French attempt to establish a colony in Egypt in 1798–1801 was not successful.
Second French colonial empire (1830–1960)
At the close of the Napoleonic Wars, most of France's colonies were restored to it by Britain, notably Guadeloupe and Martinique in the West Indies, French Guiana on the coast of South America, various trading posts in Senegal, the Île Bourbon (Réunion) in the Indian Ocean, and France's tiny Indian possessions; though Britain finally annexed Saint Lucia, Tobago, the Seychelles, and the Isle de France (now Mauritius). In 1825 Charles X sent an expedition to Haïti, resulting in the Haiti indemnity controversy.
The true beginnings of the second French colonial empire, however, were laid in 1830 with the French invasion of Algeria, which was conquered over the next 17 years. During the Second Empire, Emperor Napoleon III tried to create a puppet state in Mexico, but it was a disaster. The United States in 1865, after winning its Civil War, sent a large combat army to the border and France had to withdraw. Its puppet emperor was executed. This French intervention in Mexico lasted from 1861 to 1867.
In southeast Asia Napoleon III was more successful in establishing control one slice at a time. He took over Cochinchina (the southernmost part of modern Vietnam including Saigon) in 1867 and 1874, as well as a protectorate over Cambodia in 1863. Additionally, France had a sphere of influence during the 19th century and early 20th century in southern China, including a naval base at Kuangchow Bay (Guangzhouwan).
It was only after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 and the founding of the Third Republic (1871–1940) that most of France's later colonial possessions were acquired. From their base in Cochinchina, the French took over Tonkin (in modern northern Vietnam) and Annam (in modern central Vietnam) in 1884–1885. These, together with Cambodia and Cochinchina, formed French Indochina in 1887 (to which Laos was added in 1893, and Kwang-Chou-Wan in 1900). In 1849, the French concession in Shanghai was established, lasting until 1946.
Influence was also expanded in North Africa, establishing a protectorate on Tunisia in 1881 (Bardo Treaty). Gradually, French control was established over much of Northern, Western, and Central Africa around the start of the 20th century (including the modern nations of Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, Ivory Coast, Benin, Niger, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo), and the east African coastal enclave of Djibouti (French Somaliland). The explorer Colonel Parfait-Louis Monteil traveled from Senegal to Lake Chad in 1890–1892, signing treaties of friendship and protection with the rulers of several of the countries he passed through, and gaining much knowledge of the geography and politics of the region.
The Voulet–Chanoine Mission, a military expedition, was sent out from Senegal in 1898 to conquer the Chad Basin and unify all French territories in West Africa. This expedition operated jointly with two other expeditions, the Foureau-Lamy and Gentil missions, which advanced from Algeria and Middle Congo respectively. With the death of the Muslim warlord Rabih az-Zubayr, the greatest ruler in the region, and the creation of the Military Territory of Chad in 1900, the Voulet-Chanoine Mission had accomplished all its goals. The ruthlessness of the mission provoked a scandal in Paris.
As a part of the Scramble for Africa, France had the establishment of a continuous west-east axis of the continent as an objective, in contrast with the British north-south axis. This resulted in the Fashoda Incident, where an expedition led by Jean-Baptiste Marchand was opposed by forces under Lord Kitchener's command. The resolution of the crisis had a part in the bringing forth of the Entente Cordiale. During the Agadir Crisis in 1911, Britain supported France and Morocco became a French protectorate.
At this time, the French also established colonies in the South Pacific, including New Caledonia, the various island groups which make up French Polynesia (including the Society Islands, the Marquesas, the Tuamotus), and established joint control of the New Hebrides with Britain. The French made their last major colonial gains after World War I, when they gained mandates over the former Turkish territories of the Ottoman Empire that make up what is now Syria and Lebanon, as well as most of the former German colonies of Togo and Cameroon.
A hallmark of the French colonial project in the late 19th century and early 20th century was the civilising mission (mission civilisatrice), the principle that it was Europe's duty to bring civilisation to benighted peoples. As such, colonial officials undertook a policy of Franco-Europeanisation in French colonies, most notably French West Africa and Madagascar. During the 19th. century, French citizenship along with the right to elect a deputy to the French Chanber of Deputies was granted to the four old colonies of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyanne and Réunion as well as to the residents of the "Four Communes" in Senegal. In most cases, the elected deputies were white Frenchmen, although there were some blacks, such as the Senegalese Blaise Diagne, who was elected in 1914. Elsewhere, in the largest and most populous colonies, a strict separation between "sujets français" (all the natives) and "citoyens français" (all males of European extraction) with different rights and duties was maintained until 1946. As was pointed out in a 1927 treatise on French colonial law, the granting of French citizenship to natives "was not a right, but rather a privilege". Two 1912 decrees dealing with French West Africa and French Equatorial Africa enumerated the conditions that a native had to meet in order to be granted French citizenship (they included speaking and writing French, earning a decent living and displaying good moral standards). From 1830 to 1946, anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 natives Algerians only were granted French citizenship. In French West Africa, ouside of the Four Communes, there were 2,500 "citoyens indigènes" out of a total population of 15 million.
French conservatives had been denouncing the assimilationist policies as products of a dangerous liberal fantasy. In the Protectorate of Morocco, the French administration attempted to use urban planning and colonial education to prevent cultural mixing and to uphold the traditional society upon which the French depended for collaboration, with mixed results. After World War II, the segregationist approach modeled in Morocco had been discredited by its connections to Vichyism, and assimilationism enjoyed a brief renaissance.
In 1905, the French abolished slavery in most of French West Africa. David P. Forsythe wrote: "From Senegal and Mauritania in the west to Niger in the east (what became French Africa), there was a parallel series of ruinous wars, resulting in tremendous numbers of people being violently enslaved. At the beginning of the twentieth century there may have been between 3 and 3.5 million slaves, representing over 30 percent of the total population, within this sparsely populated region."
Critics of French colonialism gained an international audience in the 1920s, and often used documentary reportage and access to agencies such as the League of Nations and the International Labor Organisation to make their protests heard. The main criticism was the high level of violence and suffering among the natives. Major critics included Albert Londres, Félicien Challaye, and Paul Monet, whose books and articles were widely read.
While the first stages of a takeover often involved the destruction of historic buildings in order to use the site for French headquarters, archaeologists and art historians soon engaged in systematic effort to identify, map and preserve historic sites, especially temples such as Angkor Wat, Champa ruins and the temples of Luang Prabang. Many French museums have collections of colonial materials. Since the 1980s the French government has opened new museums of colonial artifacts including the Musée du Quai Branly and the Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration, in Paris; the Centre Culturel Tjibaou in New Caledonia; and the Maison des Civilisations et de l’Unité Réunionnaise in Réunion.
Decolonization (20th century)
The French colonial empire began to fall during the Second World War, when various parts were occupied by foreign powers (Japan in Indochina, Britain in Syria, Lebanon, and Madagascar, the United States and Britain in Morocco and Algeria, and Germany and Italy in Tunisia). However, control was gradually reestablished by Charles de Gaulle. The French Union, included in the 1946 Constitution of 1946, replaced the former colonial Empire.
France was immediately confronted with the beginnings of the decolonisation movement. Paul Ramadier's (SFIO) cabinet repressed the Malagasy Uprising in 1947. In Asia, Ho Chi Minh's Vietminh declared Vietnam's independence, starting the First Indochina War. In Cameroun, the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon's insurrection, started in 1955 and headed by Ruben Um Nyobé, was violently repressed.
When the Indochina War ended with defeat and withdrawal in 1954, France became almost immediately involved in a new, and even harsher conflict in Algeria, the oldest major colony. Ferhat Abbas and Messali Hadj's movements had marked the period between the two wars, but both sides radicalised after the Second World War. In 1945, the Sétif massacre was carried out by the French army.
The Algerian War started in 1954. Algeria was particularly problematic, due to the large number of European settlers (or pieds-noirs) who had settled there in the 125 years of French rule. Charles de Gaulle's accession to power in 1958 in the middle of the crisis ultimately led to the independence of Algeria with the 1962 Evian Accords. The Suez crisis in 1956 also displayed the limitations of French power, as its attempt to retake the canal along with the British was stymied when the United States did not back the plan.
The French Union was replaced in the new 1958 Constitution of 1958 by the French Community. Only Guinea refused by referendum to take part in the new colonial organisation. However, the French Community dissolved itself in the midst of the Algerian War; almost all of the other African colonies were granted independence in 1960, following local referendums. Some few colonies chose instead to remain part of France, under the status of overseas départements (territories). Critics of neocolonialism claimed that the Françafrique had replaced formal direct rule. They argued that while de Gaulle was granting independence on one hand, he was creating new ties with the help of Jacques Foccart, his counsellor for African matters. Foccart supported in particular the Nigerian Civil War during the late 1960s.
Population between 1919 and 1940
|Colonies, protectorates, and mandates||55,556,000||59,474,000||64,293,000||69,131,000||68,888,000|
|Percentage of the world population||5.02%||5.01%||5.11%||5.15%||4.81%|
|Sources: INSEE, SGF|
Unlike elsewhere in Europe, France experienced relatively low levels of emigration to the Americas, with the exception of the Huguenots in British or Dutch colonies. France generally had close to the slowest natural population growth in Europe, and emigration pressures were therefore quite small. A small but significant emigration, numbering only in the tens of thousands, of mainly Roman Catholic French populations led to the settlement of the provinces of Acadia, Canada and Louisiana, both (at the time) French possessions, as well as colonies in the West Indies, Mascarene islands and Africa. In New France, Huguenots were banned from settling in the territory, and Quebec was one of the most staunchly Catholic areas in the world until the Quiet Revolution. The current French Canadian population, which numbers in the millions, is descended almost entirely from New France's small settler population.
On 31 December 1687 a community of French Huguenots settled in South Africa. Most of these originally settled in the Cape Colony, but have since been quickly absorbed into the Afrikaner population. After Champlain's founding of Quebec City in 1608, it became the capital of New France. Encouraging settlement was difficult, and while some immigration did occur, by 1763 New France only had a population of some 65,000.
From 1713 to 1787, 30,000 colonists immigrated from France to the St. Domingue. In 1804 Dessalines, the first ruler of an independent Haiti (St. Domingue), ordered the massacre of whites remaining on the island. Out of the 40,000 inhabitants on Guadeloupe, at the end of the 17th century, there were more than 26,000 blacks and 9,000 whites. Bill Marshall wrote, "The first French effort to colonize Guiana, in 1763, failed utterly when tropical diseases and climate killed all but 2,000 of the initial 12,000 settlers."
French law made it easy for thousands of colons, ethnic or national French from former colonies of North and West Africa, India and Indochina to live in mainland France. It is estimated that 20,000 colons were living in Saigon in 1945. 1.6 million European pieds noirs migrated from Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. In just a few months in 1962, 900,000 French Algerians left Algeria in the largest relocation of population in Europe since World War II. In the 1970s, over 30,000 French colons left Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime as the Pol Pot government confiscated their farms and land properties. In November 2004, several thousand of the estimated 14,000 French nationals in Ivory Coast left country after days of anti-white violence.
Apart from French-Canadians (Québécois and Acadians), Cajuns, and Métis other populations of French ancestry outside metropolitan France include the Caldoches of New Caledonia, the so-called Zoreilles, Petits-blancs with the Franco-Mauritian of various Indian Ocean islands and the Beke people of the French West Indies.
- Evolution of the French Empire
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- Index:-French colonial empire
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- Overseas departments and territories of France
- French colonisation of the Americas
- French law on colonialism - (2005)
- Organisation internationale de la Francophonie
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Notes and references
Policies and colonies
- Aldrich, Robert. Greater France: A History of French Overseas Expansion (1996)
- Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (2001)
- Baumgart, Winfried. Imperialism: The Idea and Reality of British and French Colonial Expansion, 1880-1914 (1982)
- Betts, Raymond. Assimilation and Association in French Colonial Theory, 1890-1914 (2005) excerpt and text search
- Clayton, Anthony. The Wars of French Decolonization (1995)
- Jennings, Eric T. Imperial Heights: Dalat and the Making and Undoing of French Indochina (2010)
- Priestley, Herbert Ingram. (1938) France overseas;: A study of modern imperialism 463pp; encyclopedic coverage as of late 1930s
- Thomas, Martin. The French Empire Between the Wars: Imperialism, Politics and Society (2007) 1919-1939
Images and impact on France
- August, Thomas G. The Selling of the Empire: British and French Imperialist Propaganda, 1890-1940 (Contributions in Comparative Colonial Studies) (1985)
- Dobie, Madeleine. Trading Places: Colonization & Slavery in 18th-Century French Culture (2010)
- Singer, Barnett, and John Langdon. Cultured Force: Makers and Defenders of the French Colonial Empire (2008)
- Thomas, Martin, ed. The French Colonial Mind, Volume 1: Mental Maps of Empire and Colonial Encounters (France Overseas: Studies in Empire and D) (2012); The French Colonial Mind, Volume 2: Violence, Military Encounters, and Colonialism (2012)
Historiography and memory
- Dubois, Laurent. "The French Atlantic," in Atlantic History: A Critical Appraisal, ed. by Jack P. Greene and Philip D. Morgan, (Oxford University Press, 2009) pp 137–61
- Dwyer, Philip. "Remembering and Forgetting in Contemporary France: Napoleon, Slavery, and the French History Wars," French Politics, Culture & Society (2008) 26#3 pp 110–122.
- Greer, Allan. "National, Transnational, and Hypernational Historiographies: New France Meets Early American History," Canadian Historical Review, (2010) 91#4 pp 695–724, in Project MUSE
- Hodson, Christopher, and Brett Rushforth, "Absolutely Atlantic: Colonialism and the Early Modern French State in Recent Historiography," History Compass, (January 2010) 8#1 pp 101–117
- an annual volume of refereed, scholarly articles
- L'Afrique francophone
- Open Yale Courses (45-min audio/video/text)
- Area Of French Empire in 1940