The French Encounter with Africans: White Response to Blacks, 1530-1880.† William B. Cohen.† Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003. 360 pp.
The French Encounter with Africans provides a review of French thinking about race and slavery as it developed from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Cohenís book emerged in response to three studies of the Anglo-Saxon image of Blacks: Curtinís The Image of Africa (1964),
Taking a revisionist approach, Cohen challenges the reputation that
The first edition of this once groundbreaking and now classic book was published in 1980, and it is surprising that it has only recently been published in paperback. Although the present edition is identical to the original, the addition of a foreword by Professor Le Sueur of the University of Nebraska provides not only a valuable overview of the text, highlighting its central thesis, but also an appreciation of Cohenís life and achievements as a scholar. Cohen received his PhD from Stanford University and spent his entire academic career at the University of Indiana, serving as Chair of the Department of History for part of that time. Cohenís first two books Rulers of Empire and European Empire Building addressed the French colonial service in twentieth-century Africa. He then turned to the study of earlier times, which led to the publication of this volume in 1980.† The present edition was published shortly after his death in 2002.
The French Encounter with Africans is clearly written, well structured and detailed without being too dense, making it accessible to a broad readership. Although Cohen's book lacks a bibliography, extensive endnotes provide clarification on points of interest, as well as references. †Cohenís approach was controversial when the book first appeared, but the new lines of inquiry initiated by Cohen have since been followed up in the writings of other prominent historians, most notably Tzvetan Todorov.† Cohenís ideas are now widely used and accepted, making The French Encounter with Africans an important point of reference for both academics and students.