Contemporary French Civilization

The 4th Lawrence R. Schehr Memorial Award Winning Essay

Notre histoire and Madame Livingstone: travels in time

Contemporary French Civilization (2017), 42, (2), 141–169.


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Revisiting the past to shed new light on and reevaluate the present has gained much currency among writers, filmmakers, and artists in the last couple decades and also serves as a productive framework for scholars to better unpack colonialism’s continued multifaceted impact on the contemporary moment. Personal testimonies and recently uncovered historical accounts reconfigure existing epistemologies often in the hopes of affecting social change. This article considers two recent bandes dessinées both published in 2014 that participate in such trends by taking readers back in time. The first, Notre histoire by Lilian Thuram, Jean-Christophe Camus, and Sam Garcia, employs footballer Lilian Thuram’s personal family history as a vehicle for positioning the French Caribbean staunchly at the center of the French Republic’s history. The second, Madame Livingstone: Congo, la Grande Guerre by Barly Baruti and Christophe Cassiau-Haurie, set in what is today the Democratic Republic of the Congo, imaginatively explores Belgian-Congolese relations through the Belgian Force Publique’s relatively unknown participation in World War I. In both cases, the journey back in time serves not only to rethink historiography, but also to generate a critical dialogue about contemporary issues of identity and belonging.

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Bumatay, Michelle