Skip to Content

Author's Forum Presents: Freedom Papers: An Atlantic Odyssey in the Age of Emancipation

Wednesday, February 15, 2012
12:00 AM
Hatcher Graduate Library, 913 S. University Ave., Library Gallery, Room 100

A conversation with Rebecca Scott and Jean Hebrard.

Around 1785, a woman was taken from her home in Senegambia and sent to Saint-Domingue in the Caribbean. Those who enslaved her there named her Rosalie. Her later efforts to escape slavery were the beginning of a family’s quest, across five generations and three continents, for lives of dignity and equality. Freedom Papers sets the saga of Rosalie and her descendants against the background of three great antiracist struggles of the nineteenth century: the Haitian Revolution, the French Revolution of 1848, and the Civil War and Reconstruction in the United States.

Freed during the Haitian Revolution, Rosalie and her daughter Elisabeth fled to Cuba in 1803. A few years later, Elisabeth departed for New Orleans, where she married a carpenter, Jacques Tinchant. In the 1830s, with tension rising against free persons of color, they left for France. Subsequent generations of Tinchants fought in the Union Army, argued for equal rights at Louisiana’s state constitutional convention, and created a transatlantic tobacco network that turned their Creole past into a commercial asset. Yet the fragility of freedom and security became clear when, a century later, Rosalie’s great-great-granddaughter Marie-José was arrested by Nazi forces occupying Belgium.

Freedom Papers follows the Tinchants as each generation tries to use the power and legitimacy of documents to help secure freedom and respect. The strategies they used to overcome the constraints of slavery, war, and colonialism suggest the contours of the lives of people of color across the Atlantic world during this turbulent epoch.

Rebecca Scott, the Charles Gibson Distinguished University Professor of History and Professor of Law, is the University's Henry Russel Lecturer for 2012. The lectureship is awarded annually in recognition of a scholar's exceptional achievements in research, scholarship, and/or creative endeavors, and an outstanding record of teaching, mentoring, and service. Scott teaches a seminar on the law in slavery and freedom as well as a course on civil rights and the boundaries of citizenship in historical perspective. Her book, Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery (Harvard University Press, 2005), received the Frederick Douglass Prize and the John Hope Franklin Prize. She is a recent recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Jean M. Hébrard has worked for many years on the cultural history of south-west Europe focusing on the history of writing (scribal and personal practices). He participated in the large-scale enquiries on the history of reading and writing carried out in France in the 1980s and the 1990s and published numerous articles and books in this field (particularly Discours sur la lecture, 1880-2000, Paris, Fayard, 2000 with Anne-Marie Chartier). Recently he has extended his research area to the colonial world of Iberian and French Empires (particularly Brazil and Saint-Domingue). Professeur associé at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, and visiting professor at the University of Michigan, he is a member of the Centre de Recherche sur le Brésil Contemporain (EHESS) and of the Centre international de recherche sur les Esclavages (CNRS).

The Author's Forum is a collaboration between the U-M Institute for the Humanities, University Library, Great Lakes Literary Arts Center, and Ann Arbor Book Festival.

Additional sponsorship for this event provided by the University of Michigan Law School, Department of History, and Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.