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France & French Collections at the Library of Congress

Francophone Studies

Philippeville, Algeria. ca. 1899. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Due to the colonizing efforts of metropolitan France (and Belgium) over the centuries, French is spoken on five continents, however it is most prevalent in Europe and Africa. There are over 300 million French speakers in the world and about 80 million native speakers. Francophone literature spans the entire globe. Works hail from diverse countries ranging from Lebanon in the Middle East to Canada in North America, and Senégal in Africa. There are also French speakers in Oceana, Asia and South America. At present, France has territories of the French Republic such as Corsica, as well as many overseas territories and collectivities. These include the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint Martin, and Saint Berthélemy (known popularly as St. Barts); French Guiana (located on the northern coast of South America); Saint Pierre and Miquelon (south of Newfoundland in the Atlantic Ocean); the island of Réunion (in the Indian Ocean to the East of Madagascar); Mayotte (located in the Mozambique Channel); French Polynesia; New Caledonia (a special status island off the coast of Australia); and Wallis and Futuna (in the Pacific Ocean). Apart from these overseas territories and regions, there are many areas of the world that have fallen under French influence at some point in history—much of it unsolicited.

Both Asia and the South Pacific, for example, have experienced French rule and influence over their long histories. In Asia the history of French involvement has left a legacy of French language and culture. Known as French Indochina until its demise in 1954, the countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were under colonial rule by France to varying degrees. For more book selections on this topic see French Indochina. The French presence in India in the mid-18th century was primarily a commercial venture, but also has a complicated history. For more books on this topic see India-Relations-France. In the South Pacific, French Polynesia, an overseas collectivity of France, includes almost 120 islands and archipelagos. French Polynesia is often controversial for a number of reasons including its use by France in nuclear trials in the mid-20th century. The French government under President Emmanuel Macron finally addressed this debt in a visit to the former territories in the summer of 2021. The island of Tahiti became famous through the paintings of French artist Paul Gauguin, who traveled there after his time in Martinique, and has been criticized for exploiting his position of power over young native women who were often models in his paintings. A manuscript by Gauguin External which contains his critiques on Western culture and the Catholic Church, as well as illustrations, was written in Tahiti towards the end of his life. The Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) has digitized a beautiful reproduction of the original illustrated text painstakingly transcribed by the eminent Gauguin scholar Elizabeth C. Childs, and Etta and Mark Steinberg. It has a full-length English translation by Stamos Metzidakis, Professor Emeritus at Washington University, St. Louis. For more book selections from the Library of Congress on these topics see French Polynesia.

This guide makes an effort to group these many diverse countries and territories into categories for research purposes only. Far from relegating them to less visible corners, it seeks to lift them out of the enormous corpus of French-language literature. Needless to say, each country and culture has its own unique and often contentious history with France and with the French language. While France has historically been the center for French-language literature, authors from various Francophone countries are shifting this spotlight. Alain Mabanckou, a well-known Congolese author, laments this separation between French literature and Francophone literature. He notes that Francophone literature “naturally calls to mind the idea of a distant literature, a literature created outside of France, most often by authors originally from the former French colonies.” For many people this is changing. Francophone literature is far from being distant or irrelevant, as shown by the sharp increase in writers from various French-speaking countries winning prestigious awards and seeing their works gain popular and critical acclaim on a global scale. Francophone literature portrays a beautiful array of perspectives and narratives, often from marginalized groups such as women and people of color. They explore concepts like adolescence, love, complex family relationships, gender, and racial identity as well as post-colonial history and theory. Many French authors who have African, Caribbean (or any non-European) heritage examine the notion of French identity in a country where their nationality is expected to erase their race. Until recently race was often lost or ignored under the idea of universalism — to the detriment of progress towards the republican ideals of libérté, egalité et fraternité. Progress is being made in the form of public debates, scholarship and recognition of the full history of France in the world. Rather than suppress the conversations that arise or fear that one story is replacing another, one may consider professor Mame-Fatou Niang's analogy of certain pages of the French history book — long glued together — are opening up for all to see, creating a complicated but more authentic story. Fortunately, in recent years, many works have become available in English translation, giving access to non-French speakers.

For purposes of findability, this guide covers the four typically recognized regions of the Francophone world: The Maghreb, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas & Caribbean, and Europe. This is a starting point for locating literature by authors from these regions, as well as finding general reference resources, listed below. For assistance from librarians covering French-speaking African countries, contact the specialists in the African and Middle Eastern Reading Room, and for an overview to those resources, please see the research guide, African, Jewish, and Middle Eastern Studies: Digital Resources at the Library of Congress. For the French-speaking Caribbean countries, and for French Guiana, contact librarians in the Hispanic Reading Room, part of the Latin American, Caribbean & European Division (LAC&E). The Library of Congress also published Country Studies that have been digitized covering countries from Algeria to Madagascar.

Library Resources for Francophone Studies

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional digitized versions are included when available.

Related Digital Resources on Francophone Studies

The following web-accessible resources provide access to collections of Francophone books, resources on Francophone studies, and a map showing the Francophone regions (countries where French is spoken, or is the official language).

Subscription Databases

The subscription resources marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.

Access to Rights Restricted Digital Materials

Stacks is the primary system for access to rights restricted digital materials in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress. In contrast, (a) public domain and other unrestricted digitized content is broadly available via the Library’s public website; and (b) subscription databases and other licensed content is primarily available via the Electronic Resources Online Catalog (EROC).

Materials in Stacks are described and managed through other metadata systems, primarily the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

The following titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog and a link for viewing the digitized version of each item onsite at the Library of Congress.