BioDanna Agmon is a historian of French empire and the Indian Ocean world. She is an Assistant Professor in the History department at Virginia Tech, and a Core Faculty of the ASPECT doctoral program (Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought). She received a PhD in History and Anthropology from the University of Michigan. Agmon is the author of “A Colonial Affair: Commerce, Conversion, and Scandal in French India,” published by Cornell University Press in 2017. Her research has been supported by the Huntington Library, the American Philosophical Society, and a Bourse Chateaubriand.
A World at Court: Nested Legality and French Empire across the Indian Ocean is about the local litigants and colonial officials who transformed the practice of law across the French colonies in the Indian Ocean in the eighteenth century. This book offers an account of a variety of French and French-administered “native” courts of law in India and in the islands of Île Bourbon (present-day Réunion) and Île de France (present-day Mauritius). In doing so, it unearths the permeability of legal code and theory to novel modes of bringing legal suits, ways of narrating crime and punishment, and enacting legal power. Across a broad geography that integrates South Asia, the Indian Ocean, coastal Africa, and Europe, it charts transformations in colonial legal practice by taking a close look at judicial interactions that did not quite follow the letter of the law. By examining cases heard in a collection of courts administered by officials of the French Compagnie des Indes in South Asia and the Western Indian Ocean, this book calls into question the portability of law codes. It argues that French courts in the Indian Ocean fundamentally relied on local and diasporic modes of dispute resolution, even in jurisdictions that purportedly dispensed justice only according to imported European legal codes. They did so by courting local intervention at every stage of the judicial process, thus allowing alternative sites for resolving conflict to “nest” within the French-administered courts.