Gaps in the record: The scribbles, notebooks, and drafts of Germaine Tillion

By Jérôme Lamy


This article attempts to reconstruct the scholarly career of Germaine Tillion, marked by the ordeal of deportation. We shall do so by studying her works on the basis of the archival traces that survived her deportation, in spite of the gaps in the available documentation. In Ravensbrück, Tillion lost her ethnologist’s archives and the almost completed manuscript of her thesis. By analyzing her first notebooks and lecture notes, we learn of her preparation to become a professional ethnologist. The few documents relating to her career in Aurès during the 1930s reveal the consolidation of her scientific method. The Second World War and her deportation saw her continue her efforts in ethnographic observation under terrifying conditions. Finally, the writing of Il était une fois l’ethnographie—a return to her work in Aurès—resulted in a stunning volume of rough drafts, which are not reflected in the final edition of this work. It could therefore be said that these gaps in documentation served to structure Germaine Tillion’s academic life. By pursuing her ethnographic efforts throughout her life, Germaine Tillion accomplished her scientific goals, overcoming and surpassing the archival loss of her first research efforts.


  • Germaine Tillion
  • Archives
  • Scientific life
  • Ethnology
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