The French Atlantic Triangle: Literature and Culture of the Slave Trade (review)


Christopher L. Miller’s long-awaited The French Atlantic Triangle is an impressive volume, magisterial in scope and weight, incorporating 390 pages of text and 136 pages of endnotes. It is an interdisciplinary study that embodies an extraordinary synthesis, being the first to draw together France’s experiences in colonization, culture, Africa, Europe, the New World and, most importantly, the principal motors of these various encounters—slavery and the slave trade. As such, it counters the prevailing trend in Atlantic historiography, whereby historical analyses are mainly geopolitical or economic histories, often written from the perspective of the mother country, at least as far as the colonial period is concerned, leading to a concomitant glossing over of many of the unpleasant realities of colonialism and slavery. Many such works neglect both slavery and slave revolts in the Americas, not to mention the slave trade and the intricacies of plantation society, and seem unable to acknowledge that abolition did not end racism, economic exploitation, and colonization in the French territories. In contrast, Miller’s meticulously researched and comprehensive coverage of France’s involvement in and profit from the slave trade in a variety of cultures and contexts—a period and a practice that France is only beginning to acknowledge as part of its past—accomplishes the challenging task of illuminating the scope and depth of the presence of slavery in the landscape of the French imagination.

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