Global France in the Revolutionary Era: Between Metropole and Colonies
What were the mechanisms of colonial rule? What challenges did the early modern French state face as it attempted to expand its sovereign authority overseas? And did the Bourbon monarchy failure to effectively negotiate these challenges with its subjects overseas lead to the collapse of France’s first colonial empire during the Revolutionary Era? This panel grapples with these questions through a series of papers examining the relationship between metropolitan France and its colonies during the long eighteenth century. Employing contrasting methodologies of military, environmental, and legal history, the papers seek to complicate our understanding of the creole-metropolitan relationship within the French Empire while more broadly challenging traditional historiographical views of the Age of Revolution. By probing the ways that overseas France was politically, militarily, and legally constructed, the papers collectively provide a better understanding of the history of global France, the French colonial state, and the sources of the revolutionary break in France and in its colonies.
Tracing the history of the construction of coastal defenses in Saint Pierre, Martinique, Arad Gigi’s paper complicates our understanding of creole-metropolitan relations in the early-modern Atlantic, while expounding a revised theory on the emergence of the modern state. Matthew Gerber’s analysis of transatlantic litigation reveals that while the distinction between creole and metropolitan could be mobilized in the course conflicts over marital separation, the constant recirculation of people and properties within the French Atlantic world often made the contrast ambiguous in practice. Comparing revolutionary counter-insurgency campaigns in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and the French Vendée, Joe Horan’s paper argues that their contrasting outcomes were shaped not simply by the natural environment, but by the ways in which military forces employed different energy sources in the form of provisions, transportation, and weaponry. Taken together, these papers offer an original view of the French colonial state while challenging predominant historiographical views on the nature of creole-metropolitan relations in the early-modern and Revolutionary Atlantic.
Though this panel will focus on the history of Global France, its fruits will be of broader significance to historians of the Revolutionary Era and the early modern Atlantic World. Bringing diverse methodologies to bear upon a common set of questions, the papers will offer social, cultural, and environmental perspectives to supplement the political approach that currently dominates historiography on colonial-metropolitan relations. Looking further back into the Old Regime for the sources of social and political conflict between colony and metropole, the papers will also press against the traditional chronological contours of the Revolutionary Era.