Crime, Punishment and Colonial Soldiers: Military Justice, the French Army and the Empire, 1914-1928

Researchers: Claire Eldridge (PI)

Project Dates: Jan 2021- Dec 2023

Project Value: 86,475€

Project Description: This project offers a history of the French Army focused on questions of race, empire and criminality. Challenging still-prevalent assumptions in the historiography that ‘the soldier’ was a white, metropolitan-born Frenchman, it focuses on Armée d’Afrique units which contained high proportions of the 437,653 French colonial subjects who fought on the European fronts between 1914 and 1918.  The project uses French military justice archives in methodologically innovative ways to explore ‘crimes’ committed by soldiers serving in these heterogenous units. As one of the few sources to contain the voices of both colonised combatants and socio-economically marginalised white soldiers, these archives offer access to the perspectives of actors who are otherwise scare within the historical record. By exploring, through their own voices, why such men behaved as they did, the aim is to to reconstruct how different soldiers navigated the intense, forced intercommunal relations of the multi-ethnic French army. Prioritising a qualitative history from below centred on these voices, this project offers new insight into how race intersected with other markers of identity to structure combatant experiences during and immediately after the Great War.