French Colonial Historical Society Article Prize for 2023 awarded to Dr Claire Eldridge

Dr Eldridge’s prize-winning article is entitled ‘Conflict and Community in the Trenches: Military Justice Archives and Interactions between Soldiers in France’s Armée d’Afrique, 1914-18’.

Dr Eldridge says, “I am very honoured to have received this award from the French Colonial Historical Society which I have always found to be a really supportive and welcoming organisation, particularly when I was just starting out as a scholar of the French empire.” The Society reviewed Dr Eldridge’s article on its website, describing it as “finely researched and well written”. You can read the full review on the Society’s website.

The prize-winning article is published in History Workshop Journal no. 93 (2022), 23-46, and is available as Open Access on the journal’s website.

Dr Eldridge took some time to tell us a little more about the research behind the article:

“During the First World War, France mobilised 437,653 colonial subjects from across its empire as part of a multi-ethnic army. Due to very high rates of illiteracy, these colonised combatants did not leave behind letters, diaries, or memoirs, but we can still gain insight into their experiences.

The French military justice archives contain thousands of interviews with and testimonies from these men. The military authorities created these sources as they investigated what they deemed to be ‘crimes’ committed by serving soldiers. But this material can tell us a much wider range of stories than it might appear at first. The case studies presented focus on encounters between soldiers – instances of both conflict and solidarity – and the extent to which these mapped onto racial, religious and rank-based identities. They demonstrate what were and were not considered acceptable codes of behaviour, under what circumstances, and from whose perspective.

My article shows how these cases deepen our understanding of inequalities within the supposedly egalitarian French military. It foregrounds the complex ways in which race intersected with other markers of identity to shape soldiers’ experiences in the First World War. I’ve also discovered evidence to show the different ways colonised soldiers challenged and resisted this unequal treatment.”

Find out more about Dr Eldridge’s research on this topic on the research project webpage.