TOP YOUNG HISTORIANS
Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman
47: Laurent Dubois, 3-19-07
Teaching Position: Associate Professor of History, Michigan State University
Area of Research: Caribbean, French, Comparative Slavery and Emancipation
Education: Ph.D. in Anthropology and History, University of Michigan, August 1998
Major Publications: Dubois is the author of A Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804, (published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture by the University of North Carolina Press, 2004), winner of the 2005 Frederick Douglass Book Prize, Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, winner of the 2005 David Pinkney Prize, Society for French Historical Studies, winner of the 2004 Prize in Atlantic History, American Historical Association, winner of the 2004 John Edwin Fagg Prize, American Historical Association. He is also the author of Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution, (The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004), A Best Book of 2004, Non-Fiction, Los Angeles Times, A Notable Book of 2004, Christian Science Monitor, First Runner-Up, Best Book, Adult Non-Fiction, Society of Midland Authors, 2004-2005. Dubois is also the co-author with John Garrigus of Slave Revolution in the Caribbean: A History in Documents, (Bedford Press, 2006). Dubois also has two of his book published in French: Les Vengeurs du Nouveau Monde: Histoire de la Revolution haïtienne (Rennes: Les Perséides, 2005). Translatation of Avengers of the New World by Thomas Van Ruymbeke, with Preface by Jean Casimir, and Les esclaves de la République: l’histoire oubliée de la première émancipation, 1789-1794 (Paris: Calmann- Lévy, 1998), This was a translation of a part of his dissertation, with some new introductory and concluding material Dubois wrote in French.
Dubois is currently working on a number of book projects; A History of the Caribbean, with Richard Turits (under contract with University of North Carolina Press), “Give Me the Banjo!”: America’s Instrument from Africa to America (manuscript in preparation), and Zidane, Thuram and the Empire of French Soccer, (manuscript in preparation).
Awards: Dubois is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Research Grant, Intramural Research Grant Program, Michigan State University 2005-06;
Research Grant, French Ministère d’Outre-Mer 2005-06;
Fintz Excellence in Teaching Award 2004;
M.S.U. Teacher-Scholar Award 2002;
Research Grant, Intramural Research Grant Program, Michigan State University 2001-02;
Seed Grant, Institute on Race, Urbanization, and Social Injustice, Michigan State University 2001;
Ford Africanist Fellow, W.E.B DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research, Harvard University 1998-99;
Columbia Society of Fellows (declined) 1998;
Fulbright Advanced Student Grant (France) 1996-97;
Lurcy Education Trust Fellowship 1996-98;
Rackham Graduate School Regent’s Fellowship 1992-96;
Council for European Studies Pre-Dissertation Grant 1994-95;
National Science Foundation Ethnology Training Grant 1993;
Afro-American Studies Senior Thesis Award, Princeton University 1992.
Dubois was interviewed for the BBC Documentary “Race Across Time,” January 2007.
He was a Visiting Assistant Professor Department of Afro-American Studies, Harvard University, 1999.
He was also the Co-Coordinator, France and the French Atlantic Research Team, ACLS Collaborative Research Network, which brought together scholars working in the U.S., Paris and the Université Antilles-Guyane, Martinique 2001-03.
I did much of the research for my book A Colony of Citizens in Aix-en-Provence. I initially arrived in Aix essentially by chance. A graduate student in a program in Anthropology and History, I was planning on doing a dissertation about contemporary Caribbean healers in metropolitan France. As I was finishing up my second year in graduate school, I learned about an opening as the assistant for a study abroad program in Aix-en-Provence. I knew the French colonial archives were there, and jumped at the chance to spend what my father quickly dubbed “A Year in Provence.” I wasn’t renovating a beautiful old house: I lived in a tiny room in a French dorm, though with a nice view of Mont Saint-Victoire. My job was to help culture-shocked and frequently hung-over undergraduates navigate the French university system. But I was lucky to have as my boss Edris Makward, a specialist on African literature who gave me plenty of time to work in the archives.
One sunny September morning I arrived at the archives optimistically, and quickly realized I had no idea what to do. But there was one part of the history of the Caribbean that particularly intrigued me: the revolutionary period of slave revolts and emancipation. I had read about in the period in two novels by Alejo Carpentier and Daniel Maximin, and I also knew that if I wanted to pursue my interest in questions of citizenship and belonging in France it was reasonable to follow the well-trodden path back to the French Revolution.
I asked the archivist whether I might find any information about this topic. He told me confidently: “No.” It was a useful lesson about French bureaucracy, where no is almost always the first answer to any query, by institutional and philosophical necessity. Actually, of course, there are cartons and cartons, registers and registers, of material that deals directly with the topic I was interested in, more than I could ever get through in my entire life. But life, and particularly my year in Aix, was short. Where to begin?
There was, at that time, one large table for all researchers to work at, and one electrical plug near it. There were several other researchers who, like me, were using laptops, all of which needed to be plugged in. The man who engineered a solution to this problem – by bringing in a jerry-rigged multi-plug configuration – was Stewart King, a student at Johns Hopkins University, who was doing a dissertation on free people of color in Saint-Domingue. When I told him with what must have exuded bewilderment about what I was interested in, he responded with a grace and generosity that was remarkable, and transformative.
He showed me how, from notarial registers, he was drawing out information about the social networks, economic life, and military service of free people of color. He showed me the database he was constructing. Thanks to Stewart, I suddenly had a research strategy, and I got to work.
By Laurent Dubois
- “[I]ntegrating the history of the Americas, and the Caribbean in particular, into both studies of European history and the history of empire . . . can help us appreciate one of the major implications, and ironies, of the story I tell here: Central aspects of the universalism presented by imperial powers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (as well as in the world order of twenty-first) as products of Europe’s intellectual heritage in fact originated in the colonial Caribbean. . . . The challenges posed by colonial insurgents in the Americas – the most revolutionary of them the enslaved rebels of the French Caribbean – created a democratic culture that was later presented as a gift from Europe and a justification for expanding imperialism.” — Larent Dubois in “A Colony of Citizens Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804”
About Laurent Dubois
- “Laurent Dubois’s Colony of Citizens is a complex, fascinating story of slave resistance in the Caribbean. The book is deeply researched in French archival sources, in ethnographical and anthropological sources and even in maps and imaginative fiction. With a focus on how the Haitian Revolution spread to Guadaloupe, Dubois transforms a seemingly local story into a much larger one about how the French Revolution itself was in part rooted in the slave systems of the West Indies. Dubois convincingly shows that slaves and free persons of color interpreted and converted republicanism to their own ends the claim of citizenship in the French empire only to have their freedom crushed again in re-enslavement.” — David W. Blight, director of the Gilder Lehrman Center, commented on “A Colony of Citizens Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804” on the occassion of Laurent Dubois winning the 2005 Frederick Douglass Prize
- “A Colony of Citizens, based on much original research, at last enables us to assess the true importance of battles in the Eastern Caribbean.” — The Nation reviewing A Colony of Citizens Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804
- “Dubois convincingly argues that no history of the Age of Revolution or of human rights is adequate without including the actions of enslaved Africans and their descendants in the Caribbean, who fought for emancipation and against racism. An important, thoughtful, and eloquent book. . . . Highly recommended.” — Choice reviewing “A Colony of Citizens Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804”
- “A Colony of Citizens is the leading edge of a new wave of historical work on slavery and slave resistance in the Caribbean. Using the widest possible range of archives and manuscripts, Laurent Dubois offers a compelling account of slave emancipation in the era of the French Revolution–and more tragically, of Napoleon’s reimposition of slavery. This rich and nuanced work restores the colonial story of slavery and emancipation to its rightful place as one of the most significant moments in the history of revolution, democracy, and human rights.” — Lynn Hunt, University of California, Los Angeles reviewing “A Colony of Citizens Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804”
- “Imaginatively crafted and deeply probing in argument and interpretation, A Colony of Citizens focuses on the French colony of Guadeloupe to explore the role of enslaved Africans and their descendants in imagining and creating new worlds of universal freedom. In this very important book, Laurent Dubois demonstrates how the dynamic for change in societies and empires can be powerfully influenced by the agency of an underclass who make their own way upward and forward. The book throws much-needed light on the quite complex relations among slavery, revolution, race, ideology, and freedom during a critically significant era in world history.” — David Barry Gaspar, Duke University reviewing “A Colony of Citizens Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804”
- “Adroitly linking the dramatic black revolutions of Guadeloupe and Saint Domingue, Laurent Dubois neatly balances the local and Atlantic dimensions and stakes a claim to the centrality of those revolutions to the history of empire and democracy.” — David Geggus, University of Florida reviewing “A Colony of Citizens Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804”
- “In this exhaustively researched and valuable account, Laurent Dubois, a history professor at Michigan State, looks back to the founding of Haiti… Dubois, writing in an accessible style and with a wide-ranging focus, has done an impressive job depicting the tumultuous founding of Haiti. Readers wanting to place the Caribbean nation’s current struggles in a larger historical context will find Dubois an eminently worthwhile resource.” — Chuck Leddy, Christian Science Monitor reviewing “Avengers of the New World The Story of the Haitian Revolution”
- “A stern and brilliant new book…The Haitian Revolution, in all its ugliness and brutality, was the response of the oppressed, indentured and enslaved to their unjust condition. And it is this whirling and chaotic world that Dubois so vividly brings to life in Avengers of the New World and so accurately deconstructs…Dubois starts this book about war with chapters about love, death, books and graveyards. His discussions of interracial love affairs and the attitudes of slaves both toward death among slaves and toward death among masters are riveting and eloquent. Indeed, Dubois’ literary sensibility informs the book from start to finish, so that at its beginning as well as its end, the reader feels as if the story must be fiction, yet it is not… Dubois calls Haiti a nation ‘founded on ashes,’ and he has written splendidly about the fires, both political and cultural, that lit up the land during the days of revolution and that are still, in a sense, burning today.” — Amy Wilentz, Los Angeles Times Book Review reviewing “Avengers of the New World The Story of the Haitian Revolution”
- “There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of books about the Haitian Revolution, but only a handful are indispensable. Avengers of the New World joins that select company. A powerful narrative informed by the latest research, it digs beneath ready-made notions–whether of purely heroic rebels or of implacable caste hatreds– to bring to light the forging of new identities and new ideals.” — Robin Blackburn, The Nation reviewing “Avengers of the New World The Story of the Haitian Revolution”
- “How well Dubois wears the mantle of this exciting area of study. His engaging analysis of the social forces at play in Saint Domingue (now Haiti) at the turn of the nineteenth century reveals this conflict to be of wider significance than we may previously have thought…Dubois’s masterful grasp of the “contorted human relationships” that define the period renders his study infinitely relevant to our global society…With his help, we may yet come to understand the far-reaching impact of this amazing revolution and the true meaning of Haiti’s beloved motto: L’Union fait la force.” — Patti M. Marxsen, French Review reviewing “Avengers of the New World The Story of the Haitian Revolution”
Posted on Sunday, March 18, 2007 at 9:13 PM