Alice Conklin, assistant professor of history at the University of Rochester, has been awarded the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians' Book Prize for A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895-1930.
The Berkshire Conference is the leading organization of women historians in the United States. Conklin's book was selected as the best book in any field of history published by a woman in 1997.
In her book Conklin examines how French preconceptions about West African culture affected governing policies in the colony, and how in return those experiences affected culture and society in France.
"Alice Conklin's well-written and well-organized book sheds much needed light on the French imperial project during the Third Republic," the book prize committee stated in making its announcement. The work was lauded for unveiling new evidence of reciprocal influences between France and West Africa, and for providing historical insight into current French attitudes toward race and immigration.
Conklin notes that it was not until the 1940s and 1950s that colonialism was seen as incompatible with the human and civil rights underpinning French democracy. Up until then, the French justified their possession of colonies as their own special "mission to civilize."
In addition, Conklin wrote an article summarizing and expanding on some of the research done for her book. The article, "Colonialism and Human Rights: A Contradiction in Terms? The Case of France and West Africa, 1895-1914", was published in the April edition of The American Historical Review.