Current Institutional Affiliation
EHS Tawney Fellow, University of London / School of Advanced Study

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2016
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Harvard University
The Rise and Demise of French Colonial Slavery, 1802-1860

In the 1790s and early 1800s, the Haitian and French Revolutions destroyed France's global monarchy and abolished colonial slavery. In 1804 Haitian revolutionaries asserted their independence from France. In the following decades, however, the French state reinstituted and rehabilitated slave labor in its remaining plantation colonies, at the same time as French merchants and statesmen began to develop new global ambitions. My dissertation project will use archival materials to investigate the strange resurgence of French colonial slavery in the 19th century and its contributions to French economic and imperial power. I will focus on the small slave-holding colonies that France retained: Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean, Guiana in South America, and Isle Bourbon in the Indian Ocean. I hypothesize, first, that the revolutions in Haiti and France re-energized colonial slavery and perpetuated existing structures of French imperialism, including trade protectionism, colonial legal codes, and racial hierarchy. On this basis, I suggest that forced labor was an important factor in the making of modern French capitalism. I propose, second, that the plantation colonies became a crucial testing ground for new imperial projects, a training ground for new colonial personnel, and part of an emerging and expanding French "informal empire." Thus, I suggest that France's modern empire of free trade emerged from older colonial structures, conventionally seen as archaic. The project shall require 12 months of intensive research in French and French overseas archives in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guiana, and Réunion. I will read notarial and judicial records for evidence of how administrators, jurists and slave-owners promoted plantation agriculture and restricted the freedoms of people of African ancestry. I shall also read official correspondence and private papers to construct a collective biography of the major agents of French colonial trade and imperial policy, 1800-1860.