Looking forward to this conference May 28-30 in Québec on “Voices in the Legal Archives in the French Atlantic,” at which I will present a paper entitled “Controlling Haitian History: Moreau de Saint-Méry and the Revolt against the Indies Company.”
A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege to participate in one of the most interesting and important dialogues I have been involved in as a historian. The occasion was the second of a series of forums on the “MIT and Slavery” project, an investigation of MIT’s relationship to slavery that MIT’s President Rafael Reif commissioned at the end of last academic year. The project has been spearheaded by my colleague Craig Wilder, who had the brilliant idea of creating an undergraduate research seminar (along with MIT archivist Nora Murphy) to undertake the investigation. The first forum in the series featured Craig and Nora as well as T.A. Claire Kim and a genuinely spectacular cohort of undergrads, who spoke on that day with a composure and degree of insight one would expect to see from an advanced historian (video here). The second forum, in which I was joined by Craig and MIT SHASS Dean Melissa Nobles as well as historians Tanalís Padilla and Lerna Ekmekçioğlu, was a follow-up response to questions from the MIT community about the purpose of studying this chapter of MIT’s past. The panel opened up onto a broader discussion of “the power of historical knowledge to make a better world,” from which I learned a great deal (not least by way of the lively Q&A with the audience that followed). A video recording of the event can be found here, and a news summary here. The event was organized by Emily Hiestand of the MIT SHASS Dean’s office.
Looking forward to visiting Yale’s Early Modern Empires Workshop Feb. 5 for discussion of “‘Our Crown and Glory’: The Jesuits, the Souls of Slaves, and the Struggle for Haiti” — the penultimate chapter of my book on the revolt against the Indies Company in Haiti, 1720-1725.
“Contemporary law and legal theory are resigned to the view that the corporation is a mere nexus of contracts, a legal person lacking both body and soul. This essay explores that commitment to the immateriality of the corporation through a discussion of the 18th-century revolt against the Indies Company in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) and British North America. Opponents of the joint-stock monopoly in these Atlantic settings believed, like critics of transnational corporate power today, that the company form represented a merger of wealth and power operating to subvert the liberties of disenfranchised outsiders. Financial crisis served to destabilize the fiscal and political environment that insulated the Indies Company from its critics, who took advantage of these openings by attacking the material embodiments of the corporation in the name of “free trade.” The 18th-century opposition to monopoly privilege suggests that corporate personality was neither dismissed as fiction nor accepted as reality, and that in some circumstances, at least, the corporate body could indeed be held to account for the sins of a person without conscience.”