Endangered Archives

EAP938: The diplomatic connections of Madagascar between 1861 and 1897

Dr Vincent Hiribarren, King’s College London
2016 award - Major project
£8,172 for 6 months

Archival partner: Archives Nationales de Madagascar

Project Overview

This project will digitise the diplomatic archives of the Merina kingdom which dominated Madagascar during the nineteenth century. These documents (1861-1897) which have been part of the UNESCO Memory of the World Register since 2009 illustrate the encounter between the precolonial kingdom of Madagascar, the abolitionist and religious policies of the United Kingdom and the French territorial ambitions in the Indian Ocean. Both quantitatively and qualitatively, these documents are a rare and perfect example of the diplomacy of a non-Western State in the nineteenth century. These documents show the connection of the Merina kingdom of Madagascar with the rest of the world before the advent of colonialism. The international policy of the kingdom is one of the key reasons behind its own success within the island at the beginning of the nineteenth century. In 1817, the British Crown recognized the Merina king who was the main political leader of the island as the king of the whole of Madagascar, an event which gave its international status to the kingdom. The preserved material will reveal the political and diplomatic organisation of the Malagasy kingdom before the French colonisation but will also show its integration within a wider web of international diplomatic relations.

The Malagasy Foreign Office was a cornerstone of the kingdom in the nineteenth century and up to the end of the nineteenth century, diplomacy was a critical tool used by the Merina Kingdom to preserve its independence. As an international polity, the kingdom of Madagascar played a major role in the Indian Ocean. The documents held in the archives will reveal the influence the kingdom tried to obtain amongst different Western governments as proved by the various embassies sent to Europe. The historian Guy Jacob stressed the importance of Malagasy diplomacy in the competition between France and Britain for Madagascar during the nineteenth century. Indeed, Queen Ranavalona II (1868-1883) used the rivalries between France and the United Kingdom to preserve her country's independence. Up to the creation of the French “Ghost protectorate” in 1885, the successive Malagasy leaders have managed to navigate between the different Western influences. In a way, the French “Ghost protectorate” failed because it was unable to prevent Madagascar from contracting an alliance with the United States of America.

The diplomatic files of the Malagasy government have not been systematically studied and will offer researchers invaluable insights into the history of precolonial Madagascar. These documents will thus illustrate British abolitionist and religious policies and French territorial ambitions in the Indian Ocean. Knowing that the French heavily relied on the institutions of the kingdom of Madagascar during the colonial period, the diplomatic archives will shed new light on the precolonial times and the construction of the colonial state.

The choice of the diplomatic archives of Madagascar (DD files) is the direct result of the research carried out during the previous project, EAP856, which focused on the registers of Prime Minister Rainilarivony who was heading Malagasy diplomacy in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Project Outcome