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The Birth of French Ethnology: Ethnographic Missions in Sub-Saharan Africa (1928-1939)

In partnership with Labex Les passés dans le présent (2012-2020), the National Library of France, and the Quai Branly Museum, the LESC created a website portal about the ethnographic missions conducted in Sub-Saharan Africa between 1929 and 1939. These first ethnographic missions to Africa marked in France the beginnings of field ethnology and the birth of the discipline. These events, the actors on these missions, and the historical context will appear first on this portal. The introductory texts will be accompanied by maps and illustrated by collections of iconographic archival documents. The first set is for a wide audience interested by the subject. For a more scholarly use, the different sources of information on these missions (archival collections, photographs, fieldwork artifacts) will be localized, indicated, and described. An inventory will be taken of the publications from these different missions and, whenever possible, made available in their entirety. 

The complementarity of the archival, documentary, and museum resources conserved in the three institutions, especially concerning the Dakar-Djibouti Mission, and the promotional experiences make this collaboration both natural and necessarily fruitful.
With its focus on questions of promotion, online publishing, and restitution, this portal especially seeks an alternative solution to the systematic and complete putting online of fieldwork data, once it is digitized, which would infringe on the rights of the ethnographers and their subjects. The collections will consist of documents carefully and ethically selected. Some of them will be made available to a photo sharing site, such as Flickr, for a wider distribution and commentary. We wish to encourage and collect reactions from scholars, artists, and from the more general public, especially from the countries originally studied by those missions. The portal will thus allow for experimentation with a mode of promotion and restitution of “sensitive” archives while respecting ethical principles, in collaboration with several audiences.



Labex Les passés dans le présent (ANR-11-LABX-0026-01)



Quai Branly Museum

National Library of France



Leads : Sophie Blanchy, Marie-Dominique Mouton and Frédéric Dubois

Scientific Director : Éric Jolly (CNRS Research Fellow, African Worlds Institute)

Execution : Laure Carbonnel, Limonade & Co agency, with the collaboration of Valentine Plisnier (BNF Collections) and Aurélie Méric (Quai Branly Museum collections)


Events and Publications

Website :


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Clichés : Fonds Marcel Griaule

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