Meyer Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and History
History is a story we tell ourselves about who we are. I love this definition for two reasons. First, it emphasizes the story-telling inherent in all histories. That is, histories are invented and crafted to engage particular audiences. That doesn’t mean that they are entirely fictive — indeed, professional historians go to great length to argue and prove the truth of their stories — but at the heart of a good history are great characters and plot. Second, the emphasis on we asks us about the boundaries of identity. Who are the “we” in our histories and who are the “they”? How do the stories that we tell implicate us in our relationships to humanity and the rest of the planet?
Historical research uses archival and published documents to recover the lives and perspectives of the past. My research traces French law and policy regarding the presence of blacks, often enslaved, in the metropole, as well as colonial slave law, and has allowed me to travel to France, Brazil, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion, Mauritius, and Canada. Funded by the American Historical Association’s Bernadotte Schmidt Prize, the University of Iowa, Washington State University, the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, the American Philosophical Society, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the Edward G. Meyer Professorship, and the American Council of Learned Societies, my books include: “There Are No Slaves in France”: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancien Regime (Oxford, 1996); The Color of Liberty: Histories of Race in France, co-edited with Tyler Stovall (Duke, 2002); Slavery, Freedom and the Law in the Atlantic World, with Keila Grinberg (Bedford/St. Martins, 2007); Escravidão e Liberdade nas Américas, Coleção FGV de Bolso, (Rio de Janeiro, Editora da FGV, 2013); Free Soil in the Atlantic World, co-edited with Keila Grinberg (Routledge, 2014); and Le Droit des Noirs en France au Temps de l’Esclavage (Hachette, 2014). A new biography of an enslaved family , Madeleine’s Children: Family, Freedom, Secrets and Lies in France’s Indian Ocean Colonies, was published by Oxford University Press in 2017.
Les enfants de Madeleine. Famille, liberté, secrets et mensonges dans les colonies françaises de l’océan indien.
Translated and adapted by Pierre H. Boulle. Centre international des recherches sur les esclavages et post-esclavages (CIRESC). (Paris: Karthala, 2019).
Madeleine’s Children: Family, Freedom, Secrets, and Lies in France’s Indian Ocean Colonies, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017)
Winner of the Society for French Historical Studies’ David Pinkney Prize
“S’affranchir ou s’enraciner ? Le droit français sur la migration des colonies à la metropole à l’époque de l’esclavage.” In Archéologie des migrations, edited by Dominique Garcia Hervé Le Bras, (Paris: La Découverte, 2017), pp/ 317-27.
“Les enfants de Madeleine, esclaves à l’île Bourbon (XVIIIe-XIXe siècle).” Clio: Femmes, Genre, Histoire. Special Issue: Le nom des femmes. Edited by Agnès Fine et Christiane Klapisch-Zuber. 45 (Spring 2017): 171-84.
“France’s Two Emancipations in Comparative Context.” In: Abolitions as a Global Experiment, ed. Hideaki Suzuki, (Singapore: National University Press of Singapore, 2015)
“La Race, l’esclavage et `la francité,’: L’affaire Furcy,” in Français? La nation en débat entre colonies et métropole, XVIe-XIXe siècle, ed. Cécile Vidal, (Paris : les Editions de l’EHESS, 2014), 189-210.
“Microhistory, Biography, Fiction: The Politics of Narrating the Lives of People under Slavery,” Transatlantica, (2012/2): http://transatlantica.revues.org/6184
“Slavery and the Law in the Early Modern Atlantic World.” The Cambridge World History of Slavery. Volume 3: AD1420-AD1804. Edited by David Eltis and Stanley Engerman. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
“Furcy, la question raciale et le « sol libre de France » : une micro-histoire,” Annales : Histoire, Sciences Sociales (Paris). 64:6 (Nov/Dec 2009) : 1305-1334.
“Window, Prism and Mirror: A Pedagogy of Historical Fiction in the Historical Classroom,” in Approaches to Teaching Claire de Duras’s Ourika. Edited by Mary Ellen Birkett and Chris Rivers. Approaches to Teaching Series. Joseph Gibaldi, series editor. (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2009), 122-28.
“Free Upon Higher Ground: Saint-Domingue Slaves’ Suits for Freedom in U.S. Courts, 1794-1827.” The World of the Haitian Revolution. Edited by David Geggus and Norman Fiering. (Indiana University Press, 2009), pp. 261-83.
“Introduction.” La Salle: A Novel by John Vernon. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006).