The Haiti Seminar - Money, Finance and Sovereignty
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Penelope’s Shroud': French Imperialism, Haitian Sovereignty, and the ‘Demi Droit’ Affair, 1825-1831

With Michael Kwass (Johns Hopkins), Mary D. Lewis (Harvard), David Todd (Sciences Po)
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Zoom Online Seminar. Registration required.

The Seminar seeks to foster discussions that encompass both case studies and comparative approaches, and enable to put in historical perspective questions of debt sustainability, debt forgiveness, conditionality and political control.

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14 Dec. 2023: Michael Kwass (Johns Hopkins)

'Penelope’s Shroud': French Imperialism, Haitian Sovereignty, and the ‘Demi Droit’ Affair, 1825-1831.

Discussants: Mary D. Lewis (Harvard University), David Todd (Sciences Po)


Michael Kwass is Professor of History and Diversity Champion at Johns Hopkins. He studies political and economic cultures in early modern France and the French empire. His research stretches from the age of Louis XIV through the French Revolution, contemplating questions of state formation, political economy, consumer capitalism, the Enlightenment, popular culture, and globalization. His work builds bridges between economic and social history, on the one hand, and cultural, intellectual, and political history, on the other. It experiments with a range of spatial scales from the microhistorical to the global. His first book, Privilege and the Politics of Taxation in Eighteenth-Century France: Liberté, Égalité, Fiscalité (Cambridge University Press, 2000), examines political culture through the lens of fiscality to offer a new interpretation of the origins of the French Revolution. His second book, Contraband: Louis Mandrin and the Making of a Global Underground (Harvard University Press, 2014), illuminates the dark side of 18th-century globalization, adding an explicitly political dimension to studies of the “consumer revolution.” His third book, The Consumer Revolution, 1650–1800 (Cambridge University Press, 2022), reflects on the social, cultural, and political implications of Western consumption before the age of the Industrial Revolution. He is currently conducting research on the politics of the 1825 Haitian indemnity, which France imposed on the Caribbean nation in exchange for recognizing Haitian independence. His articles have appeared in leading journals, including the American Historical Review, The Journal of Modern History, Representations, Eighteenth-Century Studies, and French History.

Mary D. Lewis is Robert Walton Goelet Professor of French History at Harvard University and affiliated faculty at the Harvard Law School. She is also a resident faculty at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies (CES). Her current research interests center around international and imperial history, with particular attention paid to the connections between international relations and social or economic life.  Her most recent book, Divided Rule: Sovereignty and Empire in French Tunisia, 1881-1938, was released by the University of California Press in 2013. Lewis’ book, The Boundaries of the Republic: Migrant Rights and the Limits of Universalism in France, 1918-1940, was a co-winner of the 2008 James Willard Hurst Prize awarded by the Law and Society Association for the best book in socio-legal history.  Lewis has been awarded such major grants as the Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and two National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships. Lewis is presently beginning a new project on the “First French Decolonization,” which will examine the transformation of France’s Atlantic empire in the 19th century after the loss of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti). Lewis was co-president of the Society for French Historical Studies in 2012-2013.

David Todd is Full Professor at Science Po's Centre for History. His research is concerned with the international aspects of French history and the transformations of the global economy between 1750 and 1914. His main works have examined the dissemination of political economy, under the guise of free trade and protectionist ideologies, in the aftermath of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era, in his book L’identité économique de la France. Libre-échange et protectionnisme (Paris: Grasset, 2008; English version: Free Trade and its Enemies in France, Cambridge University Press, 2015) and the informal aspects of French imperial expansion, in A Velvet Empire: French Informal Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021). He is currently working on a new history of political ideas and economic practices in the Mediterranean, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He is especially interested in migrations between France and the Ottoman world, the practical aspects of transactions as revealed by legal sources, and micro-historical approaches to the transformation of Mediterranean economic life between 1750 and 1914.  He holds a degree from Sciences Po and a PhD from the University of Cambridge.





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The Haiti Seminar


The Seminar takes an interdisciplinary approach, aiming to bring together scholars from diverse academic backgrounds. In particular, it will invite historians, economists and legal scholars to debate their perspectives and engage in fruitful exchanges. It seeks in particular to foster discussions that encompass both case studies and comparative approaches and enable to put in historical perspective questions of debt sustainability, debt forgiveness, conditionality, political control, etc.

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The Haiti Seminar is led by Marc Flandreau at the University of Pennsylvania in partnership with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and the School of Social Sciences and Government of the Tecnológico de Monterrey in Mexico.

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research grants


The Seminar is conceived to operate over a three-year period, commencing in 2023-24. The project will distribute a series of research grants. In particular, 10 Doctoral Prizes of 5,000 USD each will be awarded to registered PhD students located anywhere in the world and working on the history and economics of sovereign debt, a funding initiative supported by Crédit Mutuel, Paris.

The Seminar takes place online on Thursdays at 12pm (Haiti Time)/ 6 pm (Paris Time).

It will be concluded by an academic conference in the Summer of 2026.

Inquiries:  haiti.seminar@sas.upenn.edu


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