Mapping Memories of Slavery: Commemoration, Community and Identity in Contemporary France

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Literature Languages & Culture

Abstract

'Mapping Memories of Slavery' explores how commemorative associations located in France and its overseas departments are challenging the state's failure to engage with the history of slavery. It begins with the 150-year anniversary of the abolition of slavery (1998) that was celebrated in France under Chirac's presidency (1995-2007) and gave rise to the passing of a landmark law (Taubira Law, 21 May 2001). After decades of silence, this law retrospectively recognized slavery as 'a crime against humanity' and committed the Republic to overcoming its former refusal to confront this difficult past. In reality, however, little has since been done at a national level to honour this legal pledge beyond the most perfunctory commemorative 'duties' performed each year by the state on 10 May (2006-). In the absence of a genuine effort to address the history of slavery and incorporate it into the nation's narrative, numerous commemorative associations have, since 1998, emerged across the French Republic. Their projects, which range from political campaigns to re-baptise streets named after former slavers to the reconstruction of a pedagogical slave ship, collectively aim to valorise the identities of those descended from slavery. The desire to create visible and, at times, violent sites of memory in which the voices of these descendants can be heard has much to say about the construction of postcolonial identities and memories in France today. In the absence of a state memory, the study of the relationship of these commemorative associations to the past therefore exposes the changing role of the nation-state as an increasingly nebulous point of reference for identity formation.
This project has two primary aims. First, it seeks to assess the efficacy of the state's commemorative practices from the perspective of those most affected by this history. Primarily, it will examine the extent to which the government has achieved its legal intention to offer moral reparations to the descendants of slaves by ensuring that the memories of slavery, the slave trade and its abolition become embedded within the national narrative. Second, it aims to explore the ways in which commemorative associations have encountered and countered state-led memorial practices with models of remembrance that often challenge the Republic's celebrated motto: 'Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité'. Indeed, these are projects that remind us that the racism, inequality and social division of contemporary society remain some of the most divisive legacies of the colonial past.
As the first complete study of memory and identity formation among commemorative associations, this project will work with twelve citizen groups based in Paris, the former slave ports of Nantes and Bordeaux, and the former plantation colonies of Réunion, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Drawing its primary data from archival work in government and museum centres, complemented with key stakeholder interviews with association members, artists, local politicians and government committees, it will compare the planning and execution of state- and association-led commemorative events from different perspectives. In addition, it will gather the responses of local and national media, and the wider community, to these occasions. Through these sources, it will present an in-depth picture of the divergence of opinion that exists between the contemporary French state and its citizens over the remembrance of slavery and the slave trade. In doing so, will reveal the complex and dynamic ways in which identities and memories are being formed in a society with an increasingly weak sense of Republicanism. These discrete case studies thus serve as the basis for offering a new theoretical model for understanding postcolonial identity formations within and beyond the nation-state and the increasingly fragile relationships between the French state and its citizens as they attempt to work through the legacies of the past.

Planned Impact

'Mapping Memories of Slavery' is geared towards making a significant contribution to the tenth anniversary of slavery commemoration in France in 2016. By working alongside commemorative associations and government bodies located throughout the French Republic, it will not only produce excellent research for academics, but will necessarily target the non-academic communities with which it is involved. Since it explores some of the deep-seated issues affecting marginalized communities today, including social integration and belonging, cultural memory and patrimony, and the diversity of Republican identities, it will be of potential interest to a large number of non-academic groups.
The first major group concerns the public sector for which a bilingual report will be compiled (see 'Research Outputs' for more details). The government-funded Committee for the Memory and History of Slavery, which is responsible for overseeing slavery commemoration at a national level, has already expressed a strong interest in reading the results of this report. Following a conference on memories of slavery organized by the PI in 2011, collaborative links have been established with the president of the Committee, Françoise Vergès, who acted as keynote speaker and is in regular contact with the PI. In addition, regional offices dedicated to the preservation of local patrimony and culture, and located in regions formerly involved in slavery and the slave trade will be interested in the findings of the project. The Archaeological and Patrimonial Authority in Nantes, for example, would like to consider the responses of local associations to the city's commemorative efforts since this research contributes to their own projects on community responses, which have already been shared with the PI. The PI will seek to deepen these pre-existing relationships and reach towards other equivalent bodies located in Paris and the French Antilles, as well as museum sites that are concerned with communitand cultural memory. As such, the report summarizing the research findings may have a significant political impact since it will showcase successes and highlight areas for development in terms integrating marginalized memories through commemorative projects.
The second major group concerns commemorative associations. Initially, this will require building upon the links that have already been formed with three associations in Nantes and Bordeaux by including citizen groups based in Paris and the French Antilles. Through the creation of a website (where the report will also be publicised), these groups will be able to view the full range of commemorative practices happening across the French Republic and identify possible areas for future cross-regional collaborations. The website will do this by providing biographical and analytical information connecting different citizen groups. In future, the site may be expanded to include associations based throughout the French- and English-speaking worlds since it has the potential to generate a significant cultural impact by facilitating transnational connections between different commemorative associations. Funds to support the implementation of this bilingual website have been built in the FEC.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/L003937/1 20/01/2014 31/08/2014 £60,290
AH/L003937/2 Transfer AH/L003937/1 01/02/2015 31/10/2015 £16,573
 
Description The AHRC Leadership grant has enabled me to begin mapping a network of activists based in France and its overseas departments who are concerned by the effects of European-led slavery on contemporary society. I have developed close links to different activist groups and have conducted nearly sixty interviews with activist leaders, museum curators, journalist, local authorities and artists that have explored issues such as social integration and exclusion, black identity, reparations for slavery, memories and trauma and French republicanism. In addition to discovering the breadth and diversity of activism around memories of slavery, this project is unearthing some of the key issues that remain to achieve full recognition for the history of slavery and the effects it continues to have on contemporary society.
Exploitation Route The project website has now been constructed using funds from the grant. This website is useful for researchers, activists and advisory bodies working in the field of slavery studies and reparations for slavery. It includes a public report that was published online in time for France's national day for remembering slavery, the slave trade and their abolitions on 10 May 2015 and is intended to support activists seeking reparations for the enslavement of peoples of African descent.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

URL http://www.mmoe.llc.ed.ac.uk/fr
 
Description Following the launching of the project website (http://www.mmoe.llc.ed.ac.uk/fr) in 2015, which includes a map of all the activities and activism around memories of slavery across the French Republic (including its overseas departments) and a public report engaging directly with misunderstandings about reparations for slavery, a number of activists have been in contact with me, wishing to contribute to the project and/or collaborate. I have also received emails from people commenting on the usefulness of the report and the map as a tool for activists. Going forward, we will be relaunching an English-language version of the site and the report, both of which will be used as a pilot for a larger-scale project through which we will be documenting the history of reparations activism.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Other
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Knowledge Exchange and Impact Grant
Amount £3,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Edinburgh 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 11/2015 
End 11/2015
 
Description LLC Impact Support Fund
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Edinburgh 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 10/2015 
End 10/2015
 
Description LLC Impact Support Fund
Amount £4,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Edinburgh 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 05/2015 
End 05/2015
 
Description LLC Research Fund
Amount £1,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Edinburgh 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 02/2015 
End 02/2015
 
Description Research Networking Grant
Amount £45,000 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/P007074/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK)
Start 05/2017 
End 02/2019
 
Description Reparations for Slavery 
Organisation Birmingham City University
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Several new partnerships have been set up with CIRESC (Centre international de recherche sur les esclavages) and BCU's (Birmingham City University) Centre for Critical Social Research with a view to organizing two keys events. The first will be in October 2017 for Black History Month and will feed into their Black Studies Association event on education. The second will be in Paris for 10 May 2018 (France's national day for remembering slavery, the slave trade and their abolition) that will be drawing together activists and academics to host a public debate on reparations for the enslavement of peoples of African descent. In this way, we are contributing to BCU's new Black Studies course and event, and a new project under CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) entitled 'REPAIRS' that is tracing the compensation money paid to the former slave owners following the abolition decree of 1848.
Collaborator Contribution CIRESC will be helping us to host the event on 10 May 2018 and will be providing space and people to assist with the organization. Likewise BCU will be helping us to host the October event and will be providing space and people to assist with the organization.
Impact Through our collaboration with CIRESC and BCU (who are listed as two of our key project partners), we have successfully been awarded a AHRC Research Networking Grant, entitled "Reparations for Slavery: From Theory to Praxis". This forthcoming grant will enable us to build a network of researchers and activists dedicated to seeking reparations for the enslavement of peoples of African descent.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Reparations for Slavery 
Organisation School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS)
Country France, French Republic 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Several new partnerships have been set up with CIRESC (Centre international de recherche sur les esclavages) and BCU's (Birmingham City University) Centre for Critical Social Research with a view to organizing two keys events. The first will be in October 2017 for Black History Month and will feed into their Black Studies Association event on education. The second will be in Paris for 10 May 2018 (France's national day for remembering slavery, the slave trade and their abolition) that will be drawing together activists and academics to host a public debate on reparations for the enslavement of peoples of African descent. In this way, we are contributing to BCU's new Black Studies course and event, and a new project under CNRS (Centre national de la recherche scientifique) entitled 'REPAIRS' that is tracing the compensation money paid to the former slave owners following the abolition decree of 1848.
Collaborator Contribution CIRESC will be helping us to host the event on 10 May 2018 and will be providing space and people to assist with the organization. Likewise BCU will be helping us to host the October event and will be providing space and people to assist with the organization.
Impact Through our collaboration with CIRESC and BCU (who are listed as two of our key project partners), we have successfully been awarded a AHRC Research Networking Grant, entitled "Reparations for Slavery: From Theory to Praxis". This forthcoming grant will enable us to build a network of researchers and activists dedicated to seeking reparations for the enslavement of peoples of African descent.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Reparations for Slavery 
Organisation Wheelock College
Country United States of America 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution In November 2015, Professor Joyce Hope Scott (Wheelock College, Boston, US) and I organised an international conference at the University of Edinburgh (5-7 November) entitled 'Repairing the Past, Imagining the Future: Reparations and Beyond...' This was a highly successful event that brought together academics and non-academic stakeholders (notably activists, curators, government-linked groups and the media) for a three-day networking event designed to share knowledge concerning the possibility of reparations for slavery from multiple national and global perspectives. The event was be hosted within the context of the 150th anniversary of the Thirteenth Amendment, which formally abolished slavery in the US in 1865.
Collaborator Contribution Professor Joyce Hope Scott brought her expertise in terms of reparations for slavery and helped to organize this event, contacting key people working within the field of reparations.
Impact In Autumn 2017, we will be publishing and guest editing a special edition of the Journal of African American History (JAAH), entitled National and International Perspectives on Reparations Issues. All articles have been received and accepted and are currently undergoing a peer review and editorial process. In June 2016, we submitted a joint application to the AHRC for a Research Networking Bid and were awarded the grant, which is due to begin on 1 May 2017. The grant is for £43,973.67 and is entitled Reparations for Slavery: From Theory to Praxis. This forthcoming grant will enable us to build a network of researchers and activists dedicated to seeking reparations for the enslavement of peoples of African descent.
Start Year 2015
 
Description 'Beyond Memory, Towards Action: Reparations for Slavery' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Academics and non-academic stakeholders (notably activists, curators, government-linked groups and the media) were brought into dialogue through a three-day networking event designed to share knowledge concerning the possibility of reparations for slavery from multiple national and global perspectives. The event was hosted within the context of the 150th anniversary of the Thirteenth Amendment, which formally abolished slavery in the US in 1865. Around 100 people attended this event, which concluded with a roundtable discussion between activists and academics that raised a number of issues about how to work together. This in turn generation a desire to apply to the AHRC Research Networking Grant to explore these issues further. Many of the people who attended this event are now part of the networking grant, which is due to start in May 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://conferences.hss.ed.ac.uk/reparations/
 
Description 'The Unrepaired Past' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was a three-day event entitled 'The Unrepaired past'. On 26 and 27 October 2015 at St John's in Edinburgh, I worked in collaboration with the Africa in Motion (Aim) African Scotland Film Festival to screen two films relating to slavery and reparations: Karen Marks Mafundikwa's The Price of Memory (2014) and Tony Buba's Ghosts of Amistad (2013). The films were accompanied by a poster exhibition on the 'The Unrepaired Past' and a dance performance, entitled 'Traces of Time', performed by the Dutch-Surinamese professional choreographer, Farida Nabibaks.
On 29 October 2015 in Glasgow, a third film was screened as part of the AiM film festival, and we organized and chaired a public debate on reparations for slavery in collaboration with the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) for Black History Month. The screening and debate were hosted in Glasgow, a city that was at the centre of the Scottish slave trade. Katrina Browne's film Traces of the Trade (2008) set the scene for the subsequent debate by focusing on the living consequences of one of the U.S.'s most shameful episodes - slavery. The panellists for the debate brought together political, academic and activist representatives from the UK.
This strand was described by Africa in Motion as 'very timely and stimulated a great deal of discussion around the topic of the legacy of the slave trade and it's continued effects now. The events were very well attended and attracted just over 200 people in total (breakdown below).

Exhibition: 100
Traces of the Trade screening: 75
Bound African vs. African American: 30
Ghosts of Amistad: 25

Total: 230

Please also find some images to Traces of the Trade, the exhibition and dance performance below.

Traces of the Trade: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ggfcgs6odcqy1x8/AAA1n87ltNIQADrDGpQEGPgBa?dl=0
Exhibition / dance performance: https://app.box.com/s/nq89mei8twuwd50swpnexi3pepymty98'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.africa-in-motion.org.uk/
 
Description Media interest (modern-day slavery) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The article inspired discussion afterwards

After the publication of this article, I was asked to be interviewed by another journalist on the subject of reparations for slavery for a different online press and was encourage to write again for the same online newspaper. The story was also picked up and published on another website
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL https://theconversation.com/slavery-is-a-crime-it-shouldnt-be-up-to-consumers-to-fight-it-28347
 
Description Media interest (reparations for slavery) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The article sparked public interest and discussion around the subject of reparations

The interview also sparked interest from another journalist
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.voice-online.co.uk/article/uk-government-refuses-back-down-reparations
 
Description Media interest (slavery exhibition) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The article was widely read on the internet

It led to further encouragement to write for the online publication and a subsequent commission.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL https://theconversation.com/shutdown-of-exhibit-b-has-thrust-anxieties-about-racism-to-the-fore-the-...
 
Description The Conversation: Hollande and Slavery 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I wrote an article for The Conversation in response to President Hollande's Caribbean tour, where he alluded to the idea of repaying the debt owed by France to Haiti. Over 5000 people read the article and it sparked some online debate, but mostly with people objecting to reparations for the enslavement of peoples of African descent.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL https://theconversation.com/hollandes-moral-approach-to-slaverys-legacy-is-nothing-but-symbolism-418...