Florence Bernault

Position title: Emeritus Professor

Email: bernault@wisc.edu

Curriculum Vitae (pdf)

Florence Bernault


I am a specialist of contemporary Central and Equatorial Africa and teaches African History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Born in France (Marseille) in 1964, I became a student at the Ecole Normale superieure de St Cloud in 1981, and received my Ph.D. in African History in 1994 at the University of Paris-Diderot.  I started my academic career at the University of Aix-Marseille, then at the Ecolone Normale superieure de Fontenay aux Roses, as associate professor in contemporary history.  In 1996, I moved to the U.S., and joined the African History Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  I accepted a new position at Sciences Po (institute d’etudes politiques de Paris) in 2018, and retired from UW-Madison.

My publications include Démocraties ambigües en Afrique centrale: Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, 1940-1965, Paris: Karthala editions, 1996; A History of Prison and Confinement in Africa, Portsmouth, NJ: Heinemann, 2003; Ruptures Postcoloniales (co-editor, Paris: La Découverte, 2010); and Colonial Transactions:, Imaginaries, Bodies and Histories in Gabon, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019) historicizes witchcraft in colonial Gabon, and more broadly, the cross-emergence of black and white anxieties about sacred and spiritual agency from the nineteenth century to the present.  I have also written extensively on colonialism and postcolonialism, particularly on African and colonial scholars’ engagement with current social crises in France.  My work has been rewarded by a John S. Simon Guggenheim Fellowship (2001-2002), a fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (2008) and the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study (2013-214).  I recently served as the African History member on the Editorial Board of the American Historical Review and on the advisory board of the Journal of African History.


Ph.D., University of Paris-Diderot
M.A., University of Paris-Sorbonne
B.A., University of Paris-Sorbonne


Selected Publications

  • Aesthetics of Acquisition: Gabonese Spectacles and the Transactional Life of Bodies and Things, Comparative Studies in Society and History Vol. 57, No. 3. (July 2015), 753-779.
  • Control and Excess: Histories of Violence in Africa, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 85, No. 3 (August 2015), 385-394.
  • Suitcases and the Poetics of Oddities: Writing History from Disorderly Archives, History in Africa, vol. 42 (2015), 269-277.
  • Carnal Technologies and the Double Life of the Body in Gabon, Critical African Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3 (2013), 175-194.
  • “Witchcraft and the Colonial Life of the Fetish,” in B. Meier and A. Steinforth, eds., Spirits in Politics: Uncertainties of Power and Healing in African Societies, (Frankfurt a.M.: Campus Publishers, 2013), 53-74.
  • “Quelque chose de pourri dans le post-empire,” [Something’s Rotten in the Post-Empire] Cahiers d’études africaines 199 (Dec. 2010), 771-798.
  • “Colonial Bones: The 2006 Burial of Savorgnan de Brazza,” African Affairs, vol. 109, 436 (July 2010),367-390.
  • “La chair et son secret: Transfiguration du fétiche et incertitude symbolique au sud-Gabon,” [The Flesh and Its Secret: Fetish and Symbolic Uncertainty in Southern Gabon] Politique africaine, 115 (October 2009), 99-122.
  • “Colonial Syndrome: French Modern and the Deceptions of History,” in C. Tshimanga-Kashama, D. Gondola & P. Bloom, eds., Frenchness and the African Diaspora, Bloomington, 2009.
  • “Fin de règne au Gabon” [End of Gabon’s Monarchy], special issue of Politique africaine, 115 (October 2009), guest editor with Joseph Tonda.

Selected Awards

  • Fellow, Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, academic year 2014
  • Fellow, Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Wisconsin, Spring 2010
  • Fellow, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, August 2008
  • H. I. Romnes Faculty Award, University of Wisconsin, 2000-2005
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 2001

History Courses