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Journal Article

An Enslaved Enlightenment: Rethinking the Intellectual History of the French Atlantic

Laurent Dubois
Social History
Vol. 31, No. 1 (Feb., 2006), pp. 1-14
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4287294
Page Count: 14
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An Enslaved Enlightenment: Rethinking the Intellectual History of the French Atlantic
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Abstract

This articles proposes an approach to constructing an intellectual history of the enslaved in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. It does so by first analysing several works about the French Enlightenment's engagement with questions of race and slavery, and then turning to another zone of intellectual production that arguably was as important in crafting ideas of rights during the period: the plantation colonies of the Caribbean. By discussing the intellectual and political contributions of the Haitian Revolution, the article suggests that we should understand the Atlantic during this period as an integrated space of debate over rights, of universalism, over governance and empire, populated with different actors, with different perspectives, and admit among the central actors in this story the enslaved, for whom the questions of rights were never only abstract, but who nevertheless were capable of abstraction, of participating in a debate at once profoundly real and theoretical. Through such an approach we might finally understand more about the complex and contradictory inheritances of the Enlightenment when we come to understand that it was crafted not only in Europe but also in the Caribbean.

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