Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
University of Pennsylvania
Empire of Debt: Haiti and France in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World

My dissertation takes on the topic of sovereign debt in the specific case of the 1825 Haitian Indemnity Debt. French and Haitian diplomats negotiated the terms of this debt agreement after formerly enslaved Haitians gained independence from France. Over two decades after the Haitian Revolution, France agreed to recognize Haitian sovereignty if Haiti entered into a free trade deal and agreed to pay the French treasury 150 million francs (over $20 billion in today’s money). The purpose of this payment was to enable the French state to pay reparations to French plantation owners who had lost property in land and slaves after the leaders of the new Haitian state abolished slavery. My project explores how the debt was structured to produce different social and financial futures. I want to highlight how the history of reparations for slavery initially favored the progenitors of slavery over the enslaved. Who exactly was involved in the agreement’s creation and who profited from it and who did not? What transregional Atlantic connections shaped this history? What were the different debates and actions within France in response to the debt? What larger social context and political developments in France explain the connection between the debts, elite control, and changing ideas about revolutionary settlements, colonial ventures, abolition, and empire? To answer these questions and to tell this story in an international context, I will conduct archival and library research using French, British, Haitian and American materials. These include banking records, financial bond materials, newspapers, private records and correspondence, and consular records documenting Haiti’s commercial and international affairs.