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Department of History
Tufts University
East Hall, room 106
Medford, MA 02155

Email Prof. Foster
Elizabeth Foster
Associate Professor of History
Modern France in the World, Colonial West Africa


I specialize in the history of modern France and the French Empire, though I also enjoy teaching courses in European and global history more broadly. I presently offer courses on Modern France, the French Revolution, France and Africa, France in the Second World War, Europe in the Twentieth Century, the First World War, and a global survey entitled Empires and Nations. My first book, Faith in Empire, explores French colonial rule in West Africa through the prism of religion. Based on archival research in France, Senegal, and Italy, it examines the relationships between French Catholic missionaries, French colonial administrators, and Muslim, Christian, and animist Africans in colonial Senegal between 1880 and 1940. Students in my France and Africa course have the opportunity to refute my findings by working with translations of archival documents created by French administrators, African officials, and French missionaries in 1890s Senegal. They find it is not easy to construct a history from such wildly differing accounts!

I continue to be interested in the relationship between colonial rule and religion, though I am now thinking about the end of empire and if/how Catholicism became disentangled from the colonial order that shaped its spread in Africa. My new book project examines how French and African Catholics imagined the future of French sub-Saharan Africa in the years just prior to and just after decolonization. The study encompasses not only the political transitions to independence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but also efforts to "Africanize" the Church hierarchy and movements to create an authentically "African" Church. The book draws on a variety of perspectives, including those of French missionaries and theologians, Catholic African priests and intellectuals, militant Catholic African students, and lay activists in Africa and in France, to weave a new history of late colonialism, decolonization, church reform, and the enduring "post-colonial" ties between Europe and its former colonies.


  • Ph.D. Princeton University, 2006
  • M.A. Princeton University, 2002
  • B.A. Harvard University, 1998


Modern France, France in the World, Colonial West Africa, Religion and Empire


  • ACLS Fellowship, 2016-2017
  • NEH Fellowship 2016-2017
  • Center for the Humanities Faculty Fellowship, Tufts University, 2015-2016
  • Alf Andrew Heggoy Book Prize, French Colonial Historical Society, 2014
  • NEH Summer Stipend, 2014
  • Visiting Scholar, Center for European Studies, Harvard University, 2012-2013
  • Fulbright Scholar Award to France, 2012
  • Neubauer Faculty Fellow, Tufts University, 2010-2011
  • Commendation by the Jury of the Malcolm Bowie Article Prize, Society for French Studies (UK), 2009
  • Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies Writing Fellowship, 2005
  • Chateaubriand Scholarship, French Government, 2003-4

Selected Publications


Articles and Book Chapters

  • "'Entirely Christian and Entirely African': Catholic African Students in France in the Era of Independence" in The Journal of African History 56:2 (2015): 239-259.
  • "'Theologies of Colonization': The Catholic Church and the Future of the French Empire in the 1950s" in The Journal of Modern History, 87:2 (2015): 281-315.
  • "Introduction: Decolonization and Religion in Modern French History" co-authored with Giuliana Chamedes in French Politics, Culture &Society 33:2 (2015): 1-10.
  • "A Mission in Transition: Monsignor Joseph Faye and the Decolonization of the Catholic Church in Senegal" in Owen White and J. P. Daughton, eds. In God's Empire: French Missionaries and the Modern World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 257-277.
  • "'En mission il faut se faire à tout': les Sœurs de la Conception Immaculée de Castres au Sénégal, 1880-1900" trans. François Proulx, in Sarah Curtis, ed. Femmes Missionnaires: l'autre visage de la mission. Histoire et Missions Chrétiennes 16 (2010): 73-108.
  • "An Ambiguous Monument: Dakar's Colonial Cathedral of the Souvenir Africain" in French Historical Studies 32 (2009): 85-119. (Commended by the jury for the Malcolm Bowie Prize)
  • "Rethinking 'Republican Paternalism': William Ponty in French West Africa, 1890-1914" in Outre-Mers: Revue d'Histoire 95 (2007): 211-233.


  • Guest co-editor, Decolonization and Religion in Modern French History, Special Issue of French Politics, Culture &Society 33:2 (2015).


  • History 4: Empires and Nations
  • History 59: Continent in Conflict: Europe's Twentieth Century
  • History 64: Modern France and the French Empire
  • History 96: France in WWII
  • History 159: The French Revolution
  • History 160: France and Africa since the 18th Century
  • History 196: The First World War and its Legacy