I recently discovered that the French Archives nationales de outré-mer has digitized a treasure trove of historical photographs from France’s former colonial possessions and has made those images available online for public viewing.

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For people who are familiar with photographs from French Indochina, some of the photographs that the Archives nationales de outré-mer has digitized will be familiar from their previous appearance in publications.

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However, there are many many many others in this online archive that, as far as I know, have never been made public before.

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Just to give an example, here are some photographs of what we might call “visions of modernity,” that is, photographs that were either directly meant to highlight the modern developments that were taking place in the colonies, or which, through things like the clothing that we see people wearing, we can tell that society was “modernizing.”

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There are many other images in this archive about historical places, and there are a very large number of photographs of people from different ethnic groups.

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It is easy to search through the collection by going here, selecting a “territoire,” clicking “lancer la recherche,” and then clicking “afficher.” In the upper-right-hand corner of the page you can then select 20 under “Résultats par page” for easier viewing.

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For French Indochina one can find photographs under the following “territoires”: Annam, Cambodge, Cochinchine, Indochine, Laos, Siam (2 pictures of Thai pilots landing in Vietnam) Tonkin and Vietnam. With some effort, one can probably related pictures under other “territoires,” such as the picture above of a structure being built to house Vietnamese exiles in French Guiana.

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The Archives nationales de outré-mer has done a great service by making these images available for public viewing.

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The past is fascinating and these images make that fact amazingly clear.