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Sophie Kirsten White
University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, IN 46556-4635)
Voices of the African Diaspora: Slave Testimony from French Colonial Louisiana

In seeking to recover the voices of enslaved Africans in early North America, we are faced with shortcomings in the evidence generated by slaves. But in French colonies, the evidence from slave testimony mitigated this lacuna since, unlike English law, French law privileged confession and hinged on testimony as central to judicial procedure, so that slaves were called to testify exhaustively in court as defendants, witnesses and victims. Focusing on one of the richest repositories of extant trial records, from French colonial Louisiana, I make two major interventions. I argue that, far from seeing testimony as exclusively antagonistic and coercive, the enslaved seized the opportunity to voice their experiences of slavery and diaspora, producing an extraordinary corpus of autobiographical narratives. Second, I situate that evidence not just within the French Atlantic, but also within a global French empire that increasingly sought to centralize and standardize slavery and slave laws.

[Grant products][Prizes]

Project fields:
African American History; American Studies; U.S. History

Fellowships for University Teachers

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2015 – 12/31/2015