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Sue Peabody

Meyer Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and History


Phone: (360) 546-9647
Fax: (360) 546-9036
Located in Multimedia (VMMC) 202D
Office Hours: Tues and Thurs, 4:30-5:30pm and by appointment
Support Staff: Linda Campbell

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 the experience of people of color, often enslaved, as they navigated changing and contradictory French laws and from the Old Regime through the Revolution to general emancipation in 1848. I have explored France’s Free Soil principle back to the sixteenth century and its gradual erosion in the eighteenth, thanks to pressure by colonial elites who sought to bring their enslaved domestic servants and family members to the metropole. My biography of Furcy Madeleine, translated into French, and brought to the Francophone public in debates, documentaries, museum exhibits, and media, shows the wide gulf between prescriptive law and lived practice, and the fragile nature of justice.

Research funded by the American Historical Association’s Bernadotte Schmidt Prize, Yale University’s Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition, the American Philosophical Society, the Andrew Mellon Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Camargo Foundation; l’Association historique internationale de l’océan Indien (AHIOI), Centre de recherches sur les sociétés de l’océan Indien (CRESOI), Le Morne Heritage Trust Fund, The Ministry of Arts and Culture Centre for Research on Slavery and Indenture, University of Mauritius; the Nelson Mandela Center for African Culture; l’Institut des mondes africains; the University of Iowa, Washington State University, the Edward R. Meyer Professorship, as well as conferences sponsored by universities and organizations too numerous to list, have taken me to France, Brazil, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Reunion, Mauritius, Canada, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom.


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

Pierre H. Boulle and Sue Peabody, Le Droit des Noirs en France au temps de l’esclavage, Autrement Mêmes (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2014)

Free Soil in the Atlantic World, edited by Sue Peabody and Keila Grinberg, (New York and Oxford: Routledge, 2014)

Slavery, Freedom and the Law in the Atlantic World: A Brief History with Documents, with Keila Grinberg, Bedford Series in History and Culture (New York: Bedford Books, 2007)

The Color of Liberty: Histories of Race in France, edited by Sue Peabody and Tyler Stovall (Durham: Duke UP, 2003)

“There Are No Slaves in France”: The Political Culture of Race and Slavery in the Ancient Régime (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).

Public History

Dr. Peabody appears in the documentary, Furcy : le procès de la liberté (Cinétévé, 2021), which is accessible in French on youtube, and to institutional subscriptions with French and English subtitles via the distributor, Docuseek.

Dr. Peabody consulted on the exhibit, L’étrange histoire de Furcy Madeleine, 1786-1856, and its illustrated catalogue, organized by the Musée de Villèle: Histoire de l’habitation et de l’esclavage, Réunion Island, 10 December 2019 – 30 November 2020. She co-translated the traveling exhibit into English, which will be available to host by North American libraries, universities, and museums in 2023.

Selected Articles

[“Political and Legal Histories,” in |] Writing the History of Slavery, edited by David Doddington & Enrico Dal Lago. Bloomsbury “Writing History” Series. In press.

“Slaves as Witnesses, Slaves as Evidence: French and British Prosecution of the Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean,” in Voices in the Legal Archives in the French Colonial World: “The King Is Listening,” edited by Nancy Christie, Matthew Gerber, and Michael Gauvreau. Montreal: McGill-Queens Press, 2021, 281-303.

“A Local View on Global Climate and Migration Patterns: The Impact of Cyclones and Drought on the Routier Family and their Slaves in Ile Bourbon (La Réunion), 1770–1820.” In Bondage and the Environment in the Indian Ocean World. Edited by Gwyn Campbell. Palgrave-Macmillan, 2018. 123-142.

“Poursuivre en justice pour s’affranchir: une forme de résistance? L’exemple de l’esclave Furcy” in  Special Issue: Les résistances à l’esclavage dans le monde atlantique français à l¹ère des Révolutions (1750-1850). Edited by Jean-Pierre Le Glaunec. Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française, 71: 1-2 (Summer/Autumn, 2017) : 35-57.

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):

“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).

“Reading and Writing Historical Fiction,” Iowa Journal of Literary Studies, 10 (1989): 29-39. Reprinted by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, 2003.