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To Be Free and French

To Be Free and French
Citizenship in France's Atlantic Empire


Award Winner

Part of Critical Perspectives on Empire

  • Date Published: July 2017
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107498471

£ 24.99

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About the Authors
  • The Haitian Revolution may have galvanized subjects of French empire in the Americas and Africa struggling to define freedom and 'Frenchness' for themselves, but Lorelle Semley reveals that this event was just one moment in a longer struggle of women and men of color for rights under the French colonial regime. Through political activism ranging from armed struggle to literary expression, these colonial subjects challenged and exploited promises in French Republican rhetoric that should have contradicted the continued use of slavery in the Americas and the introduction of exploitative labor in the colonization of Africa. They defined an alternative French citizenship, which recognized difference, particularly race, as part of a 'universal' French identity. Spanning Atlantic port cities in Haiti, Senegal, Martinique, Benin, and France, this book is a major contribution to scholarship on citizenship, race, empire, and gender, and it sheds new light on debates around human rights and immigration in contemporary France.

    • A new vision of French citizenship which will appeal to scholars interested in Africa, the Americas, and the French Empire
    • Demonstrates the connections between historical context and the history of cities by integrating urban studies into the narrative of the French Atlantic
    • Applies the concept of gender as well as that of race to the issue of French identity and citizenship
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    • Co-winner, 2018 Bentley Book Prize, World History Association

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Semley seeks to understand the intersection of citizenship, race, and gender within the 19th- and 20th-century French Atlantic empire. She does this through a series of engaging and well-researched chapters centered on important imperial events where the local and imperial intersect and where imperial subjects see themselves within both French and local identities. … As a whole, the work illustrates the complexity of race, citizenship, and gender in that they often worked together while they were also at odds. Many of the figures described in the book embraced the larger revolutionary ideals of citizenship, but then had to negotiate them within their local contexts. Finally, even as slaves became free and freed men became citizens, women had to wait. … Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.' T. M. Reese, Choice

    'Semley combines outstanding archival research from three continents with insightful analysis and engaging prose. She consistently shows her ability to tell a good a story in an intriguing location. To Be Free and French is full of surprises and fascinating individuals who actively sought to define themselves within the context of French imperialism. Like her subjects, Semley refuses to fall into the simplistic dualities of colonizer and colonized, French or not-French, and white or black.' Michael G. Vann, World History Connected

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    Product details

    • Date Published: July 2017
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107498471
    • length: 382 pages
    • dimensions: 228 x 152 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.55kg
    • contains: 27 b/w illus.
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    List of figures
    List of maps
    List of tables
    Preface: coincidental crossings
    Part I. Revolutionary Foundations: Prologue: citizens of the world
    1. To live and die, free and French
    2. Signares before citizens
    Part II. Colonial Constructions:
    3. When Blacks broke the chains in the 'Little Paris of the Antilles'
    4. The trans-African origins of Porto-Novo
    5. An 'evolution revolution' in Paris
    Part III. Planning after Empire:
    6. A more perfect French Union
    Epilogue: the art of citizenship

  • Author

    Lorelle Semley, College of the Holy Cross, Massachusetts
    Lorelle Semley is an Associate Professor of History at the College of the Holy Cross, Massachusetts, where she teaches courses in African history, the African diaspora, and gender studies. Her research has been facilitated by fellowships at the John Carter Brown Library, the W. E. B. Dubois Research Institute, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. Research grants have supported travel to Benin, Brazil, France, Great Britain, Martinique, and Senegal. Previous works include Mother Is Gold, Father Is Glass: Gender and Colonialism in a Yoruba Town (2010) and articles for Law and History Review, Radical History Review, and Gender and History.


    • Co-winner, 2018 Bentley Book Prize, World History Association

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