LECTURE: THE CASE OF OURIKA: CHILDREN, THE FRENCH SLAVE TRADE, AND THE END OF THE RIGHTS OF MAN

May 1, 18h30 (CET)

The Case of Ourika

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The extended CCDS community is invited to the talk “The Case of Ourika: Children, the French Slave Trade and the End of the Rights of Man,” led by Associate Professors Miranda Spieler and Christy Pichichero.

ABOUT THE PAPER
This paper examines the life and afterlife of a Senegambian girl, known to historians as Ourika, who came to Paris at the age of two or three on the eve of the French Revolution and died in Paris in 1799—the year that Napoleon Bonaparte toppled the republic.

I examine the life of Ourika in two contexts: first, it examines her journey from Senegal to France in light of elite imperial culture—legal practices, economic interactions, moral ideas— that took shape in Paris at the height of the slave trade in the 1780s, which coincided with the beginnings of the French antislavery movement. Second, I explore the girl’s posthumous return in Ourika (1823), a conte by the Duchesse de Duras, née Claire de Kersaint.

To a degree that invites comparison with the original journey of Ourika to Paris, the story is a product of contradictions that bedeviled le monde, or noble high society, during the Bourbon Restoration (1814-1830), when the fortunes the French elite continued to depend on slavery and the slave trade.

By bringing Ourika’s actual journey to France into conversation with her resurrection in myth, it becomes possible to chart the rise of a troubling new form of humanitarianism, which sought to reconcile economic necessity (dependency on slavery and the slave trade) with moral conscience. The paper is drawn from a manuscript-in-progress about slaves in Paris during the Old Regime.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Miranda Spieler is an associate professor of history at The American University of Paris. She is the author of Empire and Underworld: Captivity in French Guiana (Harvard University Press, 2012), which received the American Historical Society’s George Mosse prize and J. Russell Major Prize. Her work-in-progress, Slaves in Paris, reconstructs the lives of slaves and masters using hitherto undiscovered archival materials to construct a global history of Old Regime Paris as an imperial capital.

Her scholarship is particularly concerned with the meaning of personhood, the architecture of legal space, and the role of law in enabling state violence.

 

ABOUT THE COMMENTATOR
Christy Pichichero is an associate professor of French and history, and Director of Faculty Diversity at George Mason University and the current president of the Western Society for French History. Her first book, The Military Enlightenment: War and Culture from Louis XIV to Napoleon (2017), was a finalist for the Kenshur Book Prize for the best interdisciplinary book in eighteenth-century studies.

She is currently writing two books: the first examines processes of racialization in eighteenth-century Europe; the second is about war and humanism. As an activist scholar, Pichichero organizes pedagogical workshops and roundtables on diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism at institutions throughout the United States.

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