MultiSession Representing the Irrepresentable: Narratives and Visual Images of Slavery, Forced Labor, and Genocide, Part 4: Slavery, Race, and Genocide in Colonial and Post-Colonial France

AHA Session 152
Saturday, January 5, 2013: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Balcony N (New Orleans Marriott)
Elun T. Gabriel, Saint Lawrence University
Trica Danielle Keaton, Vanderbilt University

Session Abstract

Following a transnational approach, this panel examine contested, interconnected, and understudied episodes of French history: slavery, indenture labor, and colonial past. The four papers explore written documents and visual images in order to discuss how slavery and colonialism shaped the way African peoples and their descendants were (and are) perceived and represented in France. In the first paper, Margaret Crosby Arnold looks at the presence of peoples of color in Europe through eighteenth-century European paintings. She discusses the strong reaction against the immigration of people of color during the end of the eighteenth century that eventually led to what she calls the first racial genocide of modern history under Napoléon Bonaparte. In the second paper, Nelly Schmidt explores how slavery was described in testimonies of various contemporary historical actors, including colonial administrators, travelers, and clergymen. By underscoring that in the French Caribbean enslaved individuals did not leave slave narratives, Schmidt questions to which extent historians can seize the traumatic dimensions of slavery by relying on documents written by individuals who were not enslaved. In the third paper, Céline Flory focuses on the period after the abolition of slavery in the French Caribbean. She studies the discourses produced by French colonial authorities and former slave masters in order to justify the introduction of African indenture labor to replace former slave labor. In the fourth paper, Laura Sims focuses on the representations of the massacres of the Harkis (Algerians who fought in the French Army during the Algerian War of Independence). By examining various kinds of narratives, including films and memoirs, Sims discusses how Harkis and their descendants represent the massacres that occurred in 1962. In summary, through the analysis of visual images and written testimonies, the four papers suggest that representations of African populations that persisted during the period of colonialism in Africa and indentureship in the French Caribbean were largely indebted to the representations of the period of Atlantic slavery.