Between 1928 and 1939, the first students of the Ethnology Institute (Institut d’ethnologie) in Paris organized numerous ethnographic missions to sub-Saharan Africa. For future professional ethnologists, the experience of a distant field study became an essential element of their training, and provided indispensable preparation for their career. These group expeditions marked an important step in the professionalization of French ethnology, which was established as an academic discipline in 1925.
By assembling explanatory texts and archive documents, this site presents the development of these missions, their results, their methods, their context, as well as their various actors (individuals, associations and institutions). Conceived as a research and popularization tool, it also indexes bibliographical and archival information sources relating to these expeditions and their members, specifying the location of the documents if possible, and even providing access to some full publications.
Most of the field materials assembled here, including records, notebooks and photographs, are currently conserved by three partner institutions: the Éric-de-Dampierre Library at the Centre for Ethnology and Comparative Sociology (Laboratoire d’ethnologie et de sociologie comparative), the National Library of France (Bibliothèque nationale de France), and the Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac Museum (musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac). Although most of these archives have been digitized, the creators of the site are offering an alternative to an exhaustive online collection. For ethical and scientific reasons, they prefer to link, emphasize and shed light on a careful selection of representative documents relating to methods, results and biographies, analyzed here by various specialists.