Shedding Light on 18th-century Africa – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Shedding Light on 18th-century Africa

Professor of French and Francophone Studies Catherine Gallouët has edited a collection of essays, titled L’Afrique du Siècle des Lumières: savoirs et representations [Africa during the Enlightenment: knowledge and representation] which was recently published by Oxford University Press. The collection, containing 18 essays by scholars from Europe, Africa and North America, discusses the various ways Africa is constructed in cultural productions, such as travel narratives, philosophical writings, plays, pamphlets, fiction and visual representations in 18th-century France.  

“The essays are not about Africa, per se; they are about how France imagined Africa during the Enlightenment based on what was known – or what the French thought they knew,” explains Gallouët. “These essays explore the double history of Africa while breaking away from traditional French academic discourse.” The research and editing process was greatly facilitated by on-going web discussions between the contributors. It required two years with many 18-hour days, but, as Gallouët adds, “The best way to educate myself about what was for me a new area of interest was to create this volume. It was an enormous process, but exhilarating – I absolutely loved it.”

Gallouet Book Cover

Gallouët’s scholarly focus is on 18th-century French fiction, as well as North-African literature, especially the questions concerning the effects of French colonialism and identity. “Colonialism as we know it is grounded in 18th-century discourse,” says Gallouët. Her research has fed into a course, Race, Society and Culture of the Old Regime offered next semester, which focuses on issues of racial perception before the French Revolution.

“My own scholarship and teaching about North Africa are closely linked to my view of the 18th century,” she says. “No one understands better the aspiration of the French 18th-century than Francophone cultures that have survived French colonialism and formed new nations. Encountering these cultures through readings, films, and discussions can be mind-altering.”

Gallouet will be presenting papers in Germany in October. She is also the author of Marivaux journaux et fiction (Orléans, Éditions Paradigme, Collection Références, 2001), received her B.A. from Hope College, and holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. from Rutgers University.