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Myriam Cottias, Céline Flory, Ary Gordien et Antonio de Almeida Mendes
Traduction de Lysa Hochroth
Cet article est une traduction de :
Éditorial [fr]

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1Honor and respect! We open this issue of the journal Esclavages & Post-Esclavages with our tribute to David Richardson, Jean-Pierre Sainton and Natalie Zemon Davis, whose work has accompanied the researchers writing on these themes. Although they have never actually met, in our memory and remembrances, they are connected by both their innovative and demanding research and their intellectual, political and humanistic engagement.

2David Richardson (1946-2023) was one of a remarkable generation of historians whose research led to a radical revision of the history of the Atlantic and the Atlantic slave trade. A specialist in economic history, he initiated, in the 1990s, with David Eltis, Stanley Engerman and Seymour Drescher, an innovative reflection on the quantitative and, in particular, on the numbers and flows of people deported from Africa to the Americas. The website they created has since become an essential reference for the study of Atlantic slavery, with data on 36,071 transatlantic voyages, which deported approximately 12.5 million people. It continues to be the main reference for a precise, spatialized view of the slave trade, as does the Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (2009) published with David Eltis, and Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (2008). For David Richardson, “numbers” were anything but abstract as they remained anchored at the heart of his reflection on the horror of the slave trade system. By establishing the precise number of slaves, their origin, their gender, the ports of embarkation in Africa, and the nationality of the ships, we have been able to understand the transatlantic slave trade outside of the schema of the triangular trade and consider its importance and impact on the global scale of continents and humanity. We are grateful for Richardson’s contributions to the Cambridge World History of Slavery (2010-2021) and his recent book, Principles and Agents: the British Slave Trade and its Abolition, published in 2022.

3Conscious of the need to promote the transmission of knowledge and support research into the slave trade and slavery, in 2006, he founded the Wilberforce Institute. The following year, to mark the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade by England, he co-organized a major symposium attended by members of the newly-created CIRESC. John Kufuor, then President of Ghana, led the inauguration of the bicentenary ceremonies under the patronage of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Well-founded humanist concerns were expressed, among these the need for researchers and activists to consider reparations and fight against contemporary slavery and do so in the name of the history and memory of racialized colonial slavery. Since 2007, the Wilberforce Institute, which he directed, has been a partner of the EURESCL project (, and our relationship has continued ever since. With his passing, CIRESC loses an incredibly generous friend and research partner.

4Jean-Pierre Sainton (1955-2023) was also a partner of CIRESC from the outset. Professor of Contemporary History at the University of the West Indies, he was committed to building the “territories of the history of the West Indies,” working most especially on the post-slavery era. In fact, he stressed that historiography had focused too much on the period of slavery, without considering the structures that succeeded it. Throughout his career, he meticulously examined these continuities and ruptures. Jean-Pierre Sainton’s deep-rooted commitment and indomitable Antillean resilience manifested themselves in two highly coherent forms. The first was political and trade-unionist: initially in support of a nationalist project for Guadeloupe, then in his role as President of the Association de la Caraïbe and as first director of the multi-disciplinary Department of Literature and Human Sciences he created at the University of the Antilles in Saint-Claude. The second was scientific and concerned his research and writing: Les nègres en politique : couleur, identités et stratégies de pouvoir en Guadeloupe au tournant du siècle (2002), Mé 67 : mémoire d'un événement written with Raymond Gama (2011), La décolonisation improbable : cultures politiques et conjonctures en Guadeloupe et en Martinique (1943-1967) (2012), Rosan Girard. Chronique d’une vie politique en Guadeloupe (2021), and the two major collective works entitled Histoire et Civilisation de la Caraïbe (2012 and 2015).

5The path he rigorously pursued was that of a history conceived of from the perspective of the Caribbean and against a certain historiography imbued with colonialism. He insisted that the history of the West Indies be inscribed within world history. In his last study, unfortunately unfinished, on the Galion settlement in Martinique (1848-mid 20th century), he used the tools of micro-history to analyze the ways in which a post-slavery sociality was constructed, with the establishment of formalized and informal relational systems. We hope that this last opus be published soon as we are many who anxiously await reading it.

6Natalie Zemon Davis (1928-2023) was not a historian of slavery, but her objects of study and her inventive treatment of them built paradigmatic bridges between these two fields. Her major research themes (poor populations, popular revolts and violence) and her deep commitment to denouncing inequalities, suffering and cruelty led her to take an interest in the ways in which people resisted and revolted, and how they expressed themselves. Thus, in her book Slaves on the Screen, published in 2006, she analyzed five films to show the extent to which they could not only tell the history of slavery, but also sometimes stray from it due to unscientific conceptions far removed from verified history. The issue of slavery is also echoed in her books Trickster Travels: A Sixteenth Century Muslim Between Worlds (2006) and her recent book Leo Africanus Discovers Comedy: Theatre and Poetry Across the Mediterranen (2021). Leo Africanus or al-Hasan Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi, a Muslim born in Granada and raised in Fez, was a scholar voyager known for his Cosmography and Description of Africa (1526/1550) captured by a pirate, taken to Naples then to Rome, sold as a slave and “offered” to Pope Leo X in 1518. Converted to Catholicism, he was freed and became the protégé of the papal court, spending nine years in Europe before returning to Africa. The accounts he gives of his experiences, as analyzed by Natalie Zemon Davis, show both the possibility of dialogue between opposing worlds, and an individual’s incorporation of sharing between two cultures and religions.

  • 1 She and Arlette Farge were co-directors of the third volume of a history on Western women, L’histo (...)

7Natalie Zemon Davis’ desire to give a voice to those who had not been sufficiently heard by historians at the time also helped to open up the field of women’s and gender studies, placing women at the center of history and its narrative.1 Gender, race, religion and slavery are all present in her work Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives (1995), which tells the story of one of these women, Maria Sibylla Merian, a German painter and naturalist living in Paramaribo between 1699 and 1701. As significant as Zemon Davis’ lifework was—in 2013, President Barack Obama awarded her the prestigious “National Humanities Medal”—let us pause at this reference to the field of gender research, as it touches precisely on the theme of this issue n°9, “Gender in Slave and Post-Emancipation Societies,” coordinated by Sarah Zimmerman and Nathan Marvin.

  • 2 Marisa J. Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives : Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive, Philadelphia, U (...)
  • 3 Ranajit Guha, « The Prose of Counter-Insurgency », in Ranajit Guha & Gayatri Spivak (eds.), Subalt (...)

8The silence on women’s and gender history remains deafening on a global scale, as feminist studies have shown. The power relations at work in the constitution of archives and in the way they are processed reveal something else in the context of slavery and colonialism. If, as Sarah Zimmerman (professor at Western Washington University) and Nathan Marvin (assistant professor at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock) point out, quoting Marisa Fuentes, it is a question of unpacking the “archival power to narrate the experiences or recover the voices of enslaved people and their descendants”2. The question of racialized gender makes it possible to read colonial sources backwards in a way that keeps the rhetoric of power at bay3. An intersectional analysis that takes into account gender, power, race and status in a colonial context highlights the power relations affecting populations whose cultural memories are different from those of the colonizers. Faced with the experience of European domination imposing its categories and models of gender, responses differed from one area to another, from the Atlantic to Africa, from the Indian Ocean to the Middle East. Colonized societies were not only receptacles of imposed norms, they also produced endogenous definitions of gender, with highly fixed or plastic conceptions of gender and sexuality, as some anthropologists have shown. Examples that come to mind, in particular, include the “marriage between women” documented by Evan Evans-Pritchard among the Nuer of South Sudan, the contrasting conceptions of the link between sex and personality observed by Margaret Mead among different populations in New Guinea, and the very different treatment of infants by Mossi mothers in Burkina Faso, as observed by Françoise Héritier. In their introduction, the dossier’s coordinators propose a path for reconsidering these categories of the feminine and masculine through the use of the resolutely postmodern notion of “queer” which completely calls into question any fixity in terms of gendered identification and the categorization of sexualities. “Ultimately, prioritizing gender in the study of marginalized peoples, whether enslaved and/or queer, requires contending with epistemological authority in colonial archives.” This is the proposition formulated in this issue.

9Following this thematic dossier, the varia section is enriched by two articles that reflect the broad scope the journal Esclavages & Post-Esclavages covers in providing knowledge about the different systems of slavery. The first varia written by Karwan Fatah-Black (Leiden University), Camilla de Koning (University of Manchester) and Ramona Negrón (Leiden University) focuses on the question of manumission in the 18th century by showing how this mechanism of liberation constructed a transformation of relations and networks of dependencies, in Surinam as elsewhere in Atlantic societies as a whole. The second article written by Yaruipam Muivah (EHESS), also focuses on the transformation of the slave relationship in the Lushai Hills region of the Himalayan mountains by the British colonial authorities. The issue at stake is semantic: how, in order to conform to an abolitionist policy, the terms “slave” or “slavery” disappear, while relations of domination persist?

10The “Archives et terrains” section also includes two texts, which decipher two types of documents. On one hand, Klara Boyer-Rossol (CIRESC) relies on an ethnographic source (which raises questions about the power relations at work in descriptive texts) and shows how her investigation led to the discovery of an exceptional collection of handwritten notes by Eugène de Froberville in over 11 notebooks on more than 300 East Africans in Bourbon (La Réunion) and Mauritius between 1845 and 1847. On the other, the article by Ary Gordien (CNRS-URMIS) is based on a photograph and an article published in Lendépandans, the press organ of the Union Pour la Libération de la Guadeloupe (UPLG). It painstakingly analyzes the tensions between gender and politics in a nationalist, pro-independence movement that is unable to move beyond binary representations of women, imposing on them a traditional role of “mother” and women who must preserve their “respectability.” The written word and its performance are at the heart of Marie Rodet’s interview with sociolinguist Cécile Van den Avenne and slammer Djamile Mama Gao. The performance they created is a very concrete expression of the possibility of dialogue between a researcher and an artist. Based on a corpus of letters written by riflemen from Dahomey (now Benin) to their colonial governor during the First World War, their dialogue shows how exchange is built between people with different, sometimes divergent, practices and objectives.

11This prolific issue closes with an interview in the “Creations” section between Rafael Palacios, choreographer and director of the Afro-Colombian contemporary dance company Sankofa Danzafro, Ana María Gómez (Universidad del Valle) and social anthropologist Maica Gugolati (IMAF). Combining political commitment with collective, participatory and community choreographic work, their exchange offers a new approach to contemporary Afro-diasporic dance.

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1 She and Arlette Farge were co-directors of the third volume of a history on Western women, L’histoire des femmes en Occident (XVIe-XVIIIe siècle), Perrin, Paris, 2002.

2 Marisa J. Fuentes, Dispossessed Lives : Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016, p. 78.

3 Ranajit Guha, « The Prose of Counter-Insurgency », in Ranajit Guha & Gayatri Spivak (eds.), Subaltern studies, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988, pp. 37–44.

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Myriam Cottias, Céline Flory, Ary Gordien et Antonio de Almeida Mendes, « Editorial »Esclavages & Post-esclavages [En ligne], 9 | 2024, mis en ligne le 15 mai 2024, consulté le 23 juin 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Myriam Cottias

Centre national de la recherche scientifique, LC2S, CIRESC (France)

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Céline Flory

Centre national de la recherche scientifique, UMR 8168 Mondes Américains, UAR 2502 CIRESC (France)

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Ary Gordien

Centre national de la recherche scientifique, URMIS (France)

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Antonio de Almeida Mendes

Université de Nantes, CRHIA (France)

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