Following tirailleurs sénégalais’ deployments in West Africa, Congo, Madagascar, North Africa, Syria-Lebanon, Vietnam, and Algeria from the 1880s to 1962, Militarizing Marriage historicizes how African servicemen advanced conjugal strategies with women at home and abroad. Sarah J. Zimmerman examines the evolution of women’s conjugal relationships with West African colonial soldiers to show how the sexuality, gender, and exploitation of women were fundamental to the violent colonial expansion and the everyday operation of colonial rule in modern French Empire.
These conjugal behaviors became military marital traditions that normalized the intimate manifestation of colonial power in social reproduction across the empire. Soldiers’ cross-colonial and interracial households formed at the intersection of race and sexuality outside the colonizer/colonized binary. Militarizing Marriage uses contemporary feminist scholarship on militarism and violence to portray how the subjugation of women was indispensable to military conquest and colonial rule.
Introduction. French African Soldiers and Female Conjugal Partners in Colonial Militarism
1. Marrying into the Military: Colonization, Emancipation, and Martial Community in West Africa, 1880–1900
2. Colonial Conquest “en Famille”: African Military Households in Congo and Madagascar, 1880–1905
3. Mesdames Tirailleurs and Black Villages: Trans-Saharan Experiences in the Conquest of Morocco, 1908–18
4. Domestic Affairs in the Great War: Legal Plurality, Citizenship, and Family Benefits, 1914–18
5. Challenging Colonial Order: Long-Distance, Interracial, and Cross-Colonial Conjugal Relationships,
6. Afro-Vietnamese Military Households in French Indochina and West Africa, 1930–56
Epilogue. Decolonization, Algeria, and Legacies
“A groundbreaking work of scholarship [that] contributes to a wide range of literatures. These include feminist scholarship on gender and militarism in Africa, the extensive historiography on African colonial militaries, and the historical literature of women’s roles in Western European armies.… Not only a significant and sophisticated contribution to the historical literature on the tirailleurs sénégalais and other African colonial armies but also to the growing literature on gender and militarism in Africa. Due to its temporal, geographic, and thematic scope, it will be of interest to scholars of African, global, and military history.”
“This book’s invaluable contribution is the demonstration that the sexuality and conjugality of women, particularly African women, were instrumental to global French imperial conquest.” — Journal of African History
“Erudite and compelling…. positively sparkles with historical insight … Militarizing Marriage is an essential read.” — H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews
“A massive contribution to scholarship…. I recommend anyone interested in African history, colonial history, military history, or gender studies to read this book and assign it to students. It will contribute a great deal to understanding how we write history and its complex relations with current politics.” — H-France
“Militarizing Marriage’s focus on African soldiers’ conjugal unions, households, and trans-imperial sexual relationships adds exciting new dimensions to the historiography of colonial militaries and their roles in imperial conquest, occupation, as well as in the world wars.”
“An original, significant contribution to the field of African history, Zimmerman’s thoroughly researched and insightful study on French colonial marital traditions discusses how the conjugal relationships between West African tirailleurs sénégalais soldiers and local women over Africa, Europe, and parts of Asia—and their resulting mixed-race children—represented a challenge to the French colonial racial hierarchy”