Slavery and Colonialism in Early Modern France

171B :  A Concept in French Cultural History
Spring 2023
Class No: 30867
263 Dwinelle
Susan Maslan
12:00 - 12:59 PM

From first contacts with the new worlds of North and South America in through the first successful Revolution of enslaved people in Saint-Domingue/Haiti at the end of the 18th century, French readers, writers, and thinkers explored the moral, political, emotional, ethical, and economic conflicts slavery and colonialism produced.  We will trace the ways in which literary texts sought to convey the “otherness” of the subjects of slavery and colonialism and the literary and political consequences of such representations. We will consider how thinking of themselves as colonizers and subjects of an empire shaped conceptions of Frenchness and French identity. We will consider the formation and reformation of concepts of barbarism and savagery, civilization and enlightenment.

The early modern period was an age of global commerce and exchange.  Much of that commerce centered on the slave trade and the new world colonies.  This course will study fictional and non-fictional texts that represented and examined the practices and meanings of slavery and colonialism and the consciousness of the global nature of human society. We will read narratives of encounters with Amerindian people in North and South America; we will also read letters and memoirs of those who participated in or witnessed French colonial and slave societies and read texts by abolitionists.

Readings will include: Montaigne, “Des Cannibales”; Les Relations des Jésuites de la Nouvelle France (excerpts); Lahontan, Dialogues avec un sauvage de bon sens (excerpt); Voltaire, Candide; Raynal, L’Histoire politique et philosophique des deux Indes (excerpts); Chamfort, Le Marchand de Smyrne; Diderot, Le Supplément au voyage de Bougainville; Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Paul et Virginie, Duras, Ourika