Call for Papers: Commemorating 170 Years since the French Abolition of Slavery


The following is a call for papers for a special issue of Histoire sociale / Social History entitled “Slavery, Memory, and Power: Commemorating 170 Years since the French Abolition of Slavery.” The deadline for submission of abstracts is June 15, 2017 (completed articles will be expected February 28, 2018). [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

Description: The legacies of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in former colonies and territories of France continue to be a topic of contestation in the public imagination. In December 2016, for example, a statue, erected in Pau, France, to commemorate the nation’s 1848 abolition of slavery in its former colonies was vandalised. Erected in the nineteenth century, the site of commemoration was centred on the bust of an adult male slave looking upwards towards the sky. On Christmas night in 2016, vandals threw white paint over the sculpture and scrawled the words “Nazi.”

Although 1848 is considered the definitive year in which France abolished slavery, the dynamics of race, slavery, and freedom has manifested itself in various ways in different geographical imaginaries in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Sue Peabody has long highlighted the irony of France’s economic involvement in the Atlantic slave trade and the use of enslaved African labour in its colonies while it was simultaneously developing a radical discourse that was grounded in notions of freedom, equality and citizenship. The “Freedom Principle,” as it was practised in France, was centered on the idea that freedom would be granted to any enslaved person who had arrived on French soil.  France’s active involvement in the enslavement of Africans, however, continued to thrive in its colonies in the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, and elsewhere throughout the French empire.

It was not until 1794, in the midst of a tumultuous slave revolution in Saint-Domingue (present day Haiti), that the French National Convention decreed – even if it was short lived – the abolition of slavery in its Caribbean colonies.  Facing continued resistance to the French colonial order, a policy of “terror” was exercised in Saint-Domingue, Guadeloupe and French Guiana.  In the end, it was only Saint-Domingue that triumphed over France and so declared its independence on January 1, 1804.  Slavery would be reinstated in Guadeloupe and French Guiana in 1802 and 1803 respectively, and it was not until 1848 that slavery was legally abolished in colonies throughout the French Empire.  The efficacy of the abolition decree varied immensely. In French colonies Africa, such as Senegal and Algeria, there was no immediacy to the 1848 abolition, and slavery would instead have a “slow death” as it did elsewhere on the continent (Martin Klein, 1998; Paul Lovejoy, 1993).

Historians, such as Nora Schmidt and Myriam Cottias, have long argued that French national discourse on slavery and abolition has been shaped by “silences” and “myths.” In response to these critiques, there have been visible state efforts to acknowledge France’s complicated relationship with slavery, race, and abolition.  In May 2016, the French President François Hollande announced the formation of a foundation that would take the lead in establishing a national museum in Paris which would be dedicated to the memory of slavery and the slave trade. This announcement comes one year after, the opening of the Caribbean-based Mémorial ACTe which was opened in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, for the express purpose of creating a site dedicated to the collective memory of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade.  Despite these state efforts, there is still much debate about how the history of slavery and abolition should be told.

Given that 2018 will coincide with the 170th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the former colonies of France, the guest editors intend to submit selected articles for inclusion in a special issue of Histoire Sociale / Social History entitled “Slavery, Memory, and Power: Commemorating 170 years Since the French Abolition of the Slavery.”  Histoire sociale / Social History has expressed preliminary interest in publishing a special issue on this topic.

This issue would bring together articles that explore social history as a site of memory through a focus on slavery and abolition.  The editors of this special issue, encourage submissions that contemplate the ways in which more nuanced writings of social history serve to complicate current debates on memory and power as they relate to slavery and the slave trade in France and its former colonies.

Possible topics might address the following: Centering the Caribbean in the French Abolition Story; Beyond Victor Schœlcher:  The Unsung Heroes of French Abolition; Race & Nation:  From Slave to Citizen in the French Empire; The Role of Saint-Domingue in French Abolition of Slavery; Social History, Slavery and the Question of Reparations in France; Silences and Myths in the discourses on Slavery and Abolition; Locating Subaltern Perspectives on Slavery and Abolition; Gender & Abolition in the French Empire; The 1848 Abolition Decree in Africa: Senegal and Algeria; Social History and the Public Imagination; Social History as “Usable History” in Slavery and Abolition Discourses; Commemoration, Public Monuments, and Museums; and Social History and Contemporary Debates on Slavery.

Individuals who are interested in contributing to this special issue should send a 300-400 word abstract and a CV by April 30, 2017 to Dr. Audra Diptee at

Completed articles will be expected February 28, 2018. The journal Histoire Sociale / Social History publishes articles in both English and French.


Also see and

[Painting above:  François-Auguste Biard’s “Proclamation of the Abolition of Slavery in the French Colonies,” 27 April 1848.]

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