2017 Mary Alice and Philip Boucher Book Prize
Sue Peabody, Madeleine’s Children: Family, Freedom, Secrets, and Lies in France’s Indian Ocean Colonies (Oxford University Press)
Sue Peabody’s Madeleine’s Children is a monumental achievement in research, interpretation, and narrative elegance. Based on two decades of archival sleuthing in India, Mauritius, Réunion, France, and England, the book reconstructs the lives of an enslaved family over multiple generations, using their experiences as a lens onto the problems of slavery, freedom, citizenship, and race in France’s Indian Ocean empire. Peabody’s rich portrait of Indian Ocean slavery is complex, varied, and locally particular, influenced by Atlantic slavery but also distinctive because of its diverse enslaved population and its connectedness to very different systems of hierarchy in eastern Africa, India, and the wider Indian Ocean world. The many kinds of labor performed by enslaved people in this world come into sharp focus in this family’s experience, as Madeleine and her children attended a mistress on an overseas voyage, planted and harvested wheat and corn, tended chickens and pigs, cared for children, built stone and wooden buildings, and toiled in the back-breaking cane fields and boiling houses of a sugar plantation.
Peabody reveals the many unexpected ways that “race” as a category of difference worked in colonies with diverse enslaved populations, offering a profound counterpoint to the narratives of race that emerge from the Atlantic colonies. The contested meanings of one’s ancestry, and the complex and contradictory meanings of blackness, force reconsideration of many well-established narratives of how race related to both slavery and subjecthood/citizenship. Significantly, the book also sheds startling new light on the story of Madeleine’s famous son, Furcy, whose freedom suit became a cause célèbre in early-nineteenth-century France. The committee is pleased to award the Mary Alice and Philip Boucher Prize to this ambitious, learned, and readable study.
Other Books Submitted
Danna Agmon, A Colonial Affair: Commerce, Conversion, and Scandal in French India (Cornell University Press).
Paul Cheney, Cul de Sac: Patrimony, Capitalism, and Slavery in French Saint-Domingue (University of Chicago Press).
Marlene Daut, Baron de Vastey and the Origins of Black Atlantic Humanism (Palgrave Macmillan).
Christy Pichichero, The Military Enlightenment: War and Culture in the French Empire from Louis XIV to Napoleon (Cornell University Press).