In her memoirs, the great researcher Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch looks back on her Jewish childhood, her discovery of Africa in the 1960s, the nocolonialism of certain academics, as well as her intellectual and political career, where anti-racism occupies a central place.

Few researchers embody a historiographical moment as much as Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch. It has left a lasting mark on the history of African societies. As evidenced by the nickname Mama Africa, which also gives its title to the volume of homage devoted to him by Odile Goerg and Chantal Chanson-Jabeur. It embodies this totalizing vision of the continent, with a desire to disseminate knowledge to students, but also to the general public.

His book of memoirs, Africa's Choicepresents in the manner of a geo-history his intellectual journey, from his clandestine childhood under the Occupation to his latest popular works on the history of slavery and the slave trade.

A pioneer in many fields (history of African women, history of African urbanization, intersecting history of slavery, connected history), she helped train students in France and Africa, like the Ecole de Dakar, for example. She is also a great anti-racist activist and a founding member of the CRAN. This work articulates his intellectual journey and his personal journey around the same fight: anti-racism, in all its forms.

A clandestine childhood

This is certainly the most touching part, because the historian reveals part of her life with great modesty: that of a little Jewish girl who was not declared during the Occupation. Born in 1935, Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch was six years old when her father, Rémy Vidrovitch, died in 1942. She was raised by her mother, her older sister, her grandmother and her maid, a circle of women who, said she, preserved from the feeling of fear. I have no memory of fear or anguishshe declares (p. 42).

Mute until a fairly advanced age, the little girl absorbed the events: the Exodus, the moves, the conversion to Christianity, the clandestine life in Paris, the suicide of one of her grandfathers. The figure of the mother, in particular, is masterfully depicted: it was she who made the decision not to declare the family as Jewish; it was she who threw herself in the mouth of the wolf to try to find the trace of his deported father, by going directly to the General Commission for Jewish Questions (in a scene of great intensity, p. 35); it was she who orchestrated the moves and name changes. Ultimately, she was the one who saved the family.

Since the state was the enemy in error, personal morality became essential. It was a relentless education in responsibility towards oneself, with the added conviction that being Jewish was a condition of which I had to be proud, not for its history which I did not know, but because it was for this reason that we unduly prosecuted. (p. 16).

Combating anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms: Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch explicitly links her clandestine childhood to her career as an Africanist researcher, fighting against discrimination. She joined the Sèvres normal school for young girls in 1956, but she felt like a black sheep, non-conformistfar too marginal to fit into the boarding school mold.

In July 1960, she followed Oran her husband, Michel Coquery, then in military service in the cartography department, where she gave birth to her first daughter. In the crowd, she decided to work on Africa, which she linked to her non-conformism in the academic context of the time.

A very small world

Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch entersEPHE in 1962 as a research assistant. She works, under the direction of Henri Brunschwig, on the concession companies having exploited theAEF and on the third mission of Savorgnan de Brazza to the Congo (1881-1883). She passionately follows the teachings of the sociologist Georges Balandier, the geographer Gilles Sautter, the anthropologist Denise Paulme, and the linguist Pierre Alexandre.

I was certainly not the first historian of Africa in France, but I was the first who, without any emotional attachment to this continent, began to work after independence. (pp. 78-79)

This generational position makes him adopt an approach that is immediately decolonial, without the dross of colonial ideas unconsciously conveyed by his predecessors (p. 79). In these years, she presented herself as resolutely Marxist and anti-colonial.

His ambition is to follow the same route as that of Savorgnan de Brazza, starting from Gabon and ending in Congo, Oubangui-Chari (present-day Central Africa) and Chad. In 1965, she arrived for the first time in sub-Saharan Africa, in Gabon. Then begins a whole section of the work centered on the denunciation of the neocolonialism of the academic world, technical cooperation and large companies.

Cooperators, academics, entrepreneurs are in turn described in series of small murdered portraits, revealing an openly exhibited neocolonialism. So Herbert Pepper and his wife told their boy to do the stupid to entertain the guests. Emmanuel Terray, Marc Aug and later Michel Izard are present carrying out their plots from comfortable villas, drinking their aperitifs and ordering informants to come and report to their table.

This practice of satirical portraiture immediately places Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch in the position of a moralist, describing the reverse side of technical and academic cooperation. A few tasty scenes remind us of the context in which the major theses promoting oral history were produced.

Documenting colonial scandals

Along the way, among this staff displaying varying degrees of neocolonialism, the historian gathers impressive documentation on the concession companies. In particular, she discovered the Mboko scandal (in present-day Central Africa) in 1904, suppressed by the highest colonial authorities. More than 1,500 deaths were forgotten and the administrator at the time, Guibert, was forced into silence. Savorgnan de Brazza's report, written at the same time in 1905, after his inspection mission, therefore came at the wrong time: Two scandals of this magnitude at once were too much for the French authorities (p. 112).

Through patient work of annotating and editing these sources, the historian participates in the rediscovery of these scandals, documenting as closely as possible the mechanisms of colonial exploitation and the workings of the production of institutional silence.

The work also testifies to a whole temporality and the materiality of the archive. Aix-en-Provence, Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch is participating in the classification of part of the Overseas National Archives (Anom), which had just spent several years stored on the Bordeaux quays and whose listings had been lost. These funds constitute today the main source for French imperial history, and it is difficult to imagine them soaked and unclassified. In Africa also, it testifies to the different states of conservation of archives, both national and private. If certain funds are particularly careful, like those in Dakar, she also recounts astonishing scenes of piles of papers stored under a Ndjol veranda. I found an old, big suitcase, I filled it to the brim at random because the papers were in total disorder (), I sent everything to France (p. 128).

African history, women's history

Back in France, Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch describes the excitement of the year 1968 and her brief time in the Communist Party. She also recounts the countless institutional quarrels which led to the creation of the research laboratory on Africa (Knowledge of the Third Worldcurrent CESSMA, Paris Diderot University). In the young Paris 7 University, around Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, a very young team is being created with the object of study being women's history, the history of Africa and the history long term. It’s a whole academic field that is gradually becoming structured.

Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch directs numerous theses in France and Africa. Lschool of Dakar is formed following the Africanization of programs and personnel, and it participates in this change by supervising the state theses of Senegalese teachers (Abdoulaye Bathily, Boubacar Barry, etc.). At the same time, she directs general textbooks on the history of Africa, Africa and Africans in XIXe century and the Little history of Africa.

The last chapters focus on its dissemination activities to the general public (like the exhibition at the Quai Branly museum Africa's roads) or on his anti-racist activism.

This broad retrospective documents a certain era of research in France, the job of a researcher when you have four children, field practice and its hazards. Using the oral style of the interview, even of the confidence, the work is willingly polemic. It is not exempt from some repetitions and editorial dross. But above all it offers a beautiful plea in favor of anti-racism, while retracing an exceptional career, which has left its mark beyond the disciplines.