One of the first French-assimilated Senegalese, he was the first African to study African culture and society from a Western perspective.
He was one of a group of young Senegalese selected by missionary educators to study in France in order to prepare for teaching in Senegal. Ordained in France in 1841, he returned to Senegal two years later to open a secondary school in St. Louis. The school was plagued with personnel problems and a loss of French support because it aimed to give its students a classical French education. It ceased to exist in 1849. Boilat was transferred from the school in 1845, accused of immoral conduct. During his tenure there and later on the island of Gorée he studied the history and societies of the interior. His work was published as Esquisses Sénégalaises (1853), illustrated with his own accomplished drawings. The book also set forth Boilat’s assimilationist philosophy.
Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen
July, R. W. The Origins of Modern African Thought. London: Faber & Faber, 1968.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Dictionary of African Historical Biography, 2nd edition, copyright © 1986, by Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. All rights reserved.