Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Militarizing Marriage
West African Soldiers’ Conjugal Traditions in Modern French Empire

By Sarah J. Zimmerman

“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.”

Lennart Bolliger, author of Apartheid's Black Soldiers: Un-National Wars and Militaries in Southern Africa

“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.”

Bruce Whitehouse, Journal of African History

“Erudite and compelling…. positively sparkles with historical insight … Militarizing Marriage is an essential read.”

Sarah C. Dunstan, 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.”

Ruth Ginio, H-France

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.

Sarah J. Zimmerman is an associate professor in history at Western Washington University. Her research focuses on the experiences of women and the operation of gender in West Africa and French Empire. She has published articles in the International Journal of African Historical Studies and Les Temps modernes.   More info →


Review in the International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 54, No. 1 (2021)


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Retail price: $34.95, S.
Release date: May 2021
13 illus. · 318 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $80.00, S.
Release date: July 2020
13 illus. · 318 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: July 2020
13 illus. · 312 pages
Rights:  World

Additional Praise for Militarizing Marriage

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.”

Michelle R. Moyd, author of Violent Intermediaries: African Soldiers, Conquest, and Everyday Colonialism in German East Africa

“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”

Tim Stapleton, author of Africa: War and Conflict in the Twentieth Century

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