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Richard Roberts

Frances and Charles Field Professor of History
BA., University of Wisconsin, Madison (1970)
MA., Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia (1973)
Ph.D., University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario (1978)
Richard Roberts

I am currently interested in the social history of everyday life during the 25 years surrounding French conquest of the interior of West Africa. I am especially interested in examining how colonial conquest and the establishment of colonial rule ushered in changes in African societies and economies. The approach I am using is to examine entry level civil disputes presented before the new colonial courts established in 1905. Of central interest will be disputes over marriage, custody of children, inheritance, property, and contracts. Historians of West Africa have never used these records before and my research will also assess the possibilities and limitations of these sources.

In many ways, this social history using court cases is a preamble to a research project surrounding a single legal case brought by the French against an African king, Faama Mademba Sy, king of Sinsani. In 1899, French colonial officials accused Faama Mademba of abuse of power and malfeasance. Mademba justified his actions in terms of the power and authority customary to African kings. What Mademba did not explain, but that which was central to the French case, was that Mademba was a naturalized French citizen and that the French had made him "king" in an area that had never had kings before. I will unpack this case to examine both the conflicting models of colonialism it represents and the meanings of power, authority, and challenges to authority prevailing in the new colony of the French Soudan immediately following colonial conquest.


(650) 723-9179
Economic and Financial History
Legal History
Social History
The Atlantic World
Women's History