Archipelago of Justice: Law in France’s Early Modern Empire is the first book-length study to evaluate the distinct but interwoven trajectories of the people, such as itinerant ship workers and enslaved people, who built France’s first global empire between 1680 and 1780 in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. These imperial subjects sought new political and legal influence via law courts, but with strategies that reflected local and regional priorities, particularly regarding slavery, war, and trade. Through the lens of neglected judicial records, this project shows how courts became portals between new colonial possessions and France. It reveals the historical transformations that catalyzed connections between the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia, uncovering the possibilities and limits of participation in a globally-integrated society.

Archipelago of Justice thus lays out a blueprint for global and comparative scholarship across many disciplines. First, for work attendant to colonial and postcolonial authority structures, this research disrupts bilateral analyses of a European center and a colonial periphery by evaluating colonial regimes together to show their simultaneous development and intercolonial relationships. Second, this project tests the limits of hybridization (the blending of distinct cultural and social forms—including law) in an age of globalization by investigating the interactions among American, African, Asian, and European subjects that were enabled by France’s early modern legal regime. It finds that colonial participants in the Antilles and Mascarenes sought dispute resolution from specifically French legal institutions, investing in a common legal culture that was portable among imperial sites. Finally, this project attends to the articulation and performance of concepts in written, oral, and kinesthetic registers by tracking physical trajectories (e.g. in and among courts) and knowledge networks (e.g. correspondence among court users) together.


– detail, ANOM FM F-3-211 Code Île de France