Paris: African Civilizations: Colonialism, Migration, Diaspora

African Civ students on a day trip to Nantes (Autumn 2018)
Final App Deadline: 
Monday, January 27, 2020
Language Requirement: 
Kylie Poulin

Please note: Offered in alternating years. Following the Autumn 2018 program, the next program will be Autumn 2020.

The College’s Autumn African Civilizations in Paris program is built upon a full three-course African Civilizations sequence, taught in English. Program participants also take a French language course, which runs at a normal pace through the quarter and is designed to help students connect with French (and Parisian) culture. In its particular focus on the African-French interactions, the African Civ in Paris sequence is entirely different in content than the sequence that is regularly taught in Chicago.

Why study Africa in Paris? France shares a long and deep history of engagement with the African continent; relations with Africa have played a formative role in the making of modern France. Unlike the United States, whose most robust and sustained contact with Africa prior to the twentieth century took place through the slave trade, France’s contact with the continent took many different forms: Exploration and trade (including the slave trade), conquest (Napoleon in Egypt; Algeria in the 1830s), missionary movements, and, in the late nineteenth century, the colonial conquest and occupation of vast swaths of sub-Saharan Africa and the island of Madagascar. Although colonial policy was never monolithic, generally speaking France promoted an « assimilationist » notion of empire: This doctrine suggested that if one learned the French language and acquired French culture, one could become recognized as French, although this policy was contradicted in practice. Among the many colonial powers, France is known for its close, entangled relationship with its former colonies. In the past thirty years, the relationship has transformed as many Africans have migrated to, and settled in, France.

Studying African Civilization in Paris offers the opportunity to learn more about Africa and France and their interactions with one another. We will explore the histories, definitions, and connotations of “Frenchness,” as well as consider how the African continent and Africans have helped to create those meanings. However, this course will not simply treat Africa as a window onto France. We will also investigate how African peoples directed, shaped and contributed to the worlds in which they lived, and how they actively made and maintained relations with other peoples, such as the French. Those processes and interchanges, as we will learn, often produced unintended consequences, with which both the inhabitants of France and the many Africans who seek to migrate there today continuously grapple.

It is our goal that students emerge from the class with a better understanding of both Africa’s and France’s histories and cultures and the dynamic ways that these peoples and places have informed one another. Finally, we intend that students will have an opportunity to learn about Paris in a way that moves beyond its standard hallmarks—the museums and sites that are the mainstay of typical tourist guides—to explore the ways in which France’s African ties and African heritage also make the city.

Autumn 2018 Faculty and Courses

African Civilizations in Paris considers Africa’s place in the world, generally, and in Europe especially, through an examination of centuries of encounter, empire and migration. In the Western imaginary, Africa has long been depicted as the dark continent, an inscrutable and otherworldly place, and the “other” to the European enlightenment. In this sequence, which covers such diverse topics as transatlantic slavery, contemporary African migration to France and African art, we will investigate the ideological and cultural processes through which this imagination was constructed as well as the centrality of African bodies, labor, art forms and intellectual production to the making of the modern world.

African Civ I: Adom Getachew
“Africa” in the modern Western imaginary has long been constituted as a site of absences and alterity that fixes it as the “dark continent” and therefore the other of European Enlightenment. However, this ideological construction occurred alongside the development of political, economic, and cultural entanglements between Africa and Europe. In particular, this discourse shielded and justified imperial domination and exploitation. As we shall see throughout this course, far from marginal or beyond world history, African bodies, labor, art forms, and intellectual production have been constitutive of European modernity. This first sequence of African Civilizations will consider moments of imperial encounter, exchange and circulation that allows us to examine the entangled histories of France and Africa and highlight the African presence in France and the Francophone World. In week one, we will consider transatlantic slavery and the Atlantic World it engendered, week two takes us to the Age of Revolutions and the beginnings of imperial expansion in North Africa, and finally in week 3 we consider 19th century imperialism and its 20th century afterlives. Organized around the formation, consolidation and decline of the French empire, this course will highlight the following entanglements: (1) examine the central role of the transatlantic trade in the making of French (and European) modernity (2) explore the global reverberations of the French Revolution and consider its racial and imperial limits, and (3) consider the ways in which African and African diasporic subjects of French rule negotiated republican citizenship.

African Civ II: Gregory Valdespino
Part Two of African Civilization in Paris focuses on the phenomenon of migration between Africa and Europe in historical perspective, with a particular focus on France and its former African colonies. The course seeks to move past crisis narratives of migration that ignore the long history of African migration and presence in Europe. By doing so, the course hopes to equip students with the ability to recognize the entangled historical relationship between Africa and Europe and contextualize contemporary debates about migration to Europe within broader historical debates about the meaning of borders and the salience of colonial history in contemporary postcolonial Africa and Europe.

The class is divided into three parts on the history of African migration to Europe broadly, with a particular focus on France. First, we will examine the long durée history of African migration to Europe before the 20th century. Then the class will explore the social and political realities and ramifications of colonial migration in the 20th century. Finally, the class will examine contemporary migration.

African Civ III: Emily Lord Fransee
African Civ III investigates the role of art and culture in the colonial and postcolonial era, considering the role of museums and collecting, artistic expression, and popular culture. In the Western imaginary, Africa has long been depicted as the dark continent, an inscrutable and otherworldly place, and the “other” to the European enlightenment. In this sequence, we will investigate the ideological and cultural processes through which this imagination was constructed as well as the centrality of African persons, art forms, and cultural productions to the making of the modern world. We will consider how Africans have been depicted within French imperialist culture, how they asserted their own images within the colonial era, as well as more recent Franco-African cultural production. Avenues of cultural production we will investigate major topics such as film, art, and literature as well as more “popular culture” such as consumer culture and advertising, museums, beauty and aesthetics, clothing, music and performance, leisure, sports, monuments, and food. Assessment is based on reading assignments, spoken participation and presentation, as well as short writing assignments (including Wikipedia editing).

Center in Paris

Headquarters for the College’s study abroad programs in Paris is the University of Chicago Center in Paris, the University’s research and teaching arm in Europe. Situated in the thirteenth arrondissement, the Center in Paris is part of an ambitious intellectual project along the river Seine, including the Bibliothèque Nationale and a new home for Université Denis Diderot (University of Paris VII). The Center in Paris features classrooms, offices for faculty and graduate students, computer facilities, a small library and an apartment for the faculty director. For participants in Chicago’s programs, the Center in Paris provides a focus for academic activities, a central meeting place and a continuing Chicago “presence” within one of the major capitals of Europe.


Students in the African Civilizations in Paris program are housed in a residence hall within the Cité Internationale Universitaire (Cité). The Cité, a park-like residential complex in the fourteenth arrondissement, is the international student campus in Paris, though French students also live there. Students reside in single rooms with a private bath and have access to Cité facilities, including a library, theater, laundry and athletic facilities. Students will have access to common kitchens in the residence halls and can purchase inexpensive meals at the Cité’s restaurant universitaire.

Credits and Registration

Participants in the African Civilizations in Paris program remain registered as full-time students in the College. They take and receive credit for four courses: the three courses in the civilization sequence and the French language class. The civilization sequence meets the College’s civilization requirement. If a student has already met this requirement, he or she may use these courses as electives. Their use, partial or total, in a program of study (major) must be approved by the undergraduate chair of the respective department. The language course will normally count as an elective. Course titles, units of credit and grades are placed on the College transcript.


Study abroad students pay regular College tuition, a program fee, and a nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee. The tuition and program fee are paid in conformity with the home campus payment schedule, and the nonrefundable study abroad administrative fee is submitted when accepting a place in a program. Precise figures for the African Civilizations in Paris program during the 2018-19 year are listed below:

Autumn tuition: as set by the Bursar’s Office

Study abroad administrative fee: $675

Paris African Civ program fee: $4,800

Program fee includes: Out-of-pocket expenses include:
accommodation round-trip airfare to and from the program site
instruction transportation on site
student support meals
program excursions course materials
emergency travel insurance (ISOS) personal entertainment and travel
  communications (including cell phone usage)
  health insurance and upfront payments for care
  other miscellaneous expenses

Previous program participants report spending in the range of $200 to $250 per week on meals and incidentals while on the program, though frugal students may spend less, and others could spend much more. Bear in mind that the cost of living in Paris is relatively high and that, while it is possible to live frugally, it is also possible to run short of money if you are unwary. It is therefore essential that you budget your funds prudently, apportioning your resources so that they last for the duration of the program. If you are planning to travel before or after the program or on weekends, you should budget accordingly.

Study abroad students retain their financial aid eligibility. For more information about financial aid resources, please see our Tuition, Fees, and Funding section. 

Eligibility and Application

The African Civilizations in Paris program is open to University of Chicago undergraduate students only. Applications from outside the University are not accepted.

The program is designed for undergraduates in good standing who are beyond their first year in the College. While the program stipulates no minimum grade-point average, an applicant’s transcript should demonstrate that they are a serious student who will make the most of this opportunity. Because the civilization sequence is taught in English, there is no language prerequisite, although students are encouraged to take French on campus before the program begins.

Because of the considerable demand for the Chicago civilization programs abroad, no student may participate in more than one of these programs. Each application is examined on the basis of the student’s scholastic record, personal statement and academic recommendation. If you are interested in applying for this program please fill out the online application.

Further Information

To discuss the Paris: African Civilizations: Colonialism, Migration, Diaspora program and the possibility of participating in it, please contact Kylie Poulin.

Learn more about the
Center in Paris.

What you’ll see: 

African Civ in Paris group during trip to African Market at Chateau Rouge (Autumn 2016)African Civ students on a day trip to Nantes (Autumn 2018)African Civ students on a day trip to Nantes with Prof. Adom Getachew (Autumn 2018)