Empire and Underworld: Captivity in French Guiana (Harvard Historical Studies)

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Estimates of USSR gulag transportations depend on which categories of deportations are included in the figures. Mary Gibson provided the estimates for mobile penal labour in Europe pre 1. There are large gaps in our knowledge of European bagnes and agricultural colonies. Where statistics do exist, they are often fragmented and represent the standing number of inmates in a particular year, rather than annual admissions.

The European figures do not include the 3 million prisoners shipped to death camps and killed immediately. There are currently no available estimates for the independent nation states of post-colonial Latin America. These expansive convict flows both succeeded and co-existed with other means of punishing and putting to labour criminalized and socially marginal or undesirable people.

In the medieval and early modern period, such punishments included the use of prison and vagrant labour on galleys and in frontier towns, and in workhouses, bridewells, dockyards, arsenals, hulks and bagnes prisons. Rather, penal transportation developed in the aftermath of and in tandem with other forms of punishment, and the architectures of confinement associated with imprisonment, penal colonies and rehabilitative training were syncretic.

Anthem of the First French Empire

By the nineteenth century, in numerous global contexts, penal transportation blended convict mobility with carceral immobility. Furthermore, in these locations penal colonies were imbricated with other sites of social discipline and containment that cut across Europe and its empires. It also had a close relationship to other kinds of free and coerced labour and migration, including extra-judicial or administrative population concentration and exile, and the exploitation of prisoners of war, including in labour battalions.

Empire and Underworld: Captivity in French Guiana

This collection of essays provides the first global overview of convict transportation and penal colonies, proposing that across a range of contexts over a period of more than five centuries they were key to attempts to satisfy the interlocking but sometimes incompatible desires for punishment, labour extraction, population management and imperial expansion.

In others, knowledge is either non-existent or limited. Until now, there has been almost no work on penal transportation in the Scandinavian empires, scant appreciation of the scale of penal transportation across the early-modern Spanish Empire, [16] and only limited research on the penal colonies of Latin America [17] and Japan. They are also partly a consequence of the tendency of historians to work within the frameworks of national, regional or imperial history, and their associated archives.

A transnational approach that cuts across polities and colonies is necessary to piece together these histories of geographical mobility and confinement.


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This enables an appreciation of the diversity and range of penal patterns of connection that sometimes entirely circumvented metropolitan Europe. It also brings to the fore the scale of the transportation of Asians, Africans and other non-European peoples.

Uncategorized – Cartes postales du bagne

In this volume, we propose that it is only when we view metropolitan centres, regions and what are often defined as geographical peripheries within a single analytical frame, that we can begin to trace the enormous importance and impact of convict transportation and penal colonies as means of governance and unfree labour supply.

Our global reach is only possible because we have worked collectively to explore common patterns and themes across a wide array of materials, in numerous languages. There are excellent and comprehensive records sets for some of the areas under concern. For others, there are not, and our authors have reached for the trace, piecing their narratives together from archival fragments. For the Russian Federation today, where the Gulag remain in living memory, we have both written memoirs and recordings of oral testimonies, including some by women.

Here, we note three points. We must guard against over-reliance on them in our global storytelling and remain wary of allowing them to represent the experiences of their ordinary brethren. This is a particular issue as regards the Asian and African people transported across European empires, but who neither spoke European languages nor left vernacular traces of their experiences.

In centring what previously has been understood or represented as numerically insignificant, geographically peripheral or socially marginal in our collective analysis, it is the goal of this volume to show that the transportation of convicts and the existence of penal settlements and colonies were connected to punishment, governance, national and imperial expansion, migration and colonization.

It offers a connected history framework of interpretation that positions penal transportation within a range of historiographical and methodological concerns and debates, including some of the key concerns of global history. Convicts, we suggest, were agents of imperial occupation and expansion and labour pioneers.

All the global powers used them in order to settle and then push back national and imperial boundaries and borders. To an unprecedented degree, convicts enabled the occupation of land distant from national and imperial centres, both across land and sea. Their presence has left important legacies in the world today. One of the key findings of the research represented in this volume is the global expansiveness and multi-directionality of convict transportation flows, often over large geographies and a very long period of time. As the mapping of penal routes suggests, convicts were not mainly or solely, as has often been previously assumed, transported out of metropolitan Europe, to colonies or frontier zones.

Rather, convicts were also or often moved around the territories of nation states and empires. It is also evident that convicts did not necessarily remain in one location during the term of their sentence, but they could be shifted according to labour desires or for reasons of political exigency.

Only very rarely, for example in the French Empire during the third quarter of the nineteenth century, were imperially convicted non-European convicts transported to metropolitan jails. Convict voyages were always protracted, involving journeys from home to place of trial, from jails to ports, from ports to huts, barracks or jails, and ultimately to transportation destinations. Depending on the period in which they were convicted, convicts marched, often in chain-gangs; rode in carts, wagons, trains and cars; went upriver on boats and barges; and voyaged over bays, seas and oceans in sailing vessels or steam ships.

They did not necessarily travel separately from other passengers. The precise, clean lines of the maps presented in this volume do not represent either the multiple stages of each journey or the actual geography of the routes that convicts took. Neither do they show the long periods of time that some convicts spent voyaging into transportation. They could be sent hundreds if not thousands of miles; detained in tents, holding centres or transfer prisons for long periods on the way, over many months if not years.


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The mobility of convicts through villages, towns, cities and ports, as Christian G. Journeys were important for the formation of identities and solidarities, and could also be opportunities for convict escapes, often along routes of flight that ran parallel to their transportation paths, for example in Russia. Where convicts were sent by sea, there were incidents of violent mutiny, including sometimes the murder of captains and crews.

These included the dramatic case of the convict seizure of the Havmanden on the way to the Danish Antilles Johan Heinsen , the capture of the New South Wales vessel Lady Shore and mutinies on over a dozen Indian convict vessels. We have robust figures of annual convict flows for some transportation routes and destinations, particularly within the British and French empires and for Japanese Hokkaido. However, the polycentric nature of early modern empires, the importance of regional jurisdiction, the use of administrative as distinct from judicial sentencing, the unreliability of some sets of statistics, and the intrinsically transnational and intra-imperial character of penal transportation, means that in other contexts it is only possible to estimate their extent Table 1.

Miranda Spieler

Apart from in the British and French empires, an especial frustration of the existing data is the inability to trace annual shipments for all contexts. It is thus difficult to connect peaks and troughs in transportation flows, and fluctuations in the number of transportation convicts in any given year, to the larger global political context.

These include during times of war, revolution, and anti-imperial or proto-nationalist uprising. Further research will certainly augment examples such as that of the decline of penal transportation from Britain during the Napoleonic Wars Hamish Maxwell-Stewart , and its sharp rise following the rebellion in British India Clare Anderson.

Like the penal labour camps of twentieth-century Europe, convict transportation, exile and collective resettlement in Russia and the Soviet Union are not usually incorporated into such estimates. When they are, their longevity and magnitude are striking. Sources: Richard B. Lal, ed. See note to Table 1. These figures do not include the overland migrations of North America, regional migration in the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, immigration into Africa, or internal migration in Europe, Russia, India or China.

Conversely, it should be noted that even relatively small numbers of convicts are important to histories of mobility and migration. This is because they could constitute a disproportionately large or even majority population in colonizing missions. In the Danish Antilles, for instance, a few hundred convicts at a time were used to prepare the ground for what was ultimately desired: free migration. In this they paralleled the work of more expansive or enduring convict flows, which instigated profound environmental and demographic change.

However, in some places the convict presence left a stigma, which in the longer term discouraged later migration. This was especially the case where large numbers of convicts, ex-convicts or exiles occupied and cultivated the best land, or flooded the labour market and reduced wages. Free migration was not always the ultimate or sole goal of transportation, however. The use of convicts for colonization purposes elsewhere included, sometimes in combination, the development of trade and trading routes Andaman Islands , the prevention of rival occupation New South Wales, Hokkaido or the exploitation of natural resources USSR.

Our aim in this volume is not to categorize penal transportation as one peg on a linear scale of freedom and unfreedom but to point to its place on a continuum of mobility, particularly of coerced workers. Convicts sometimes constituted a distinct portion of settler populations and in other contexts blended into larger labour diasporas.

It is commonly held that the most important moment in the history of punishment in the modern age was the birth of the prison at the turn of the nineteenth century. This, as Michel Foucault famously argued, signalled a shift from corporal punishment to carceral confinement, and thus pre-modern to modern forms of penal discipline. By appreciating the importance of convicts for expansion and colonization, rather we suggest that the history of punishment was not so much characterized by a developing immobilization of prisoners within the walls of jails but by their ongoing geographical mobilization as forced labour, on a global scale.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote of his experiences of the Soviet labour camps as part of what he called a Gulag Archipelago. From the late eighteenth century, innovations in the punishment of transportation followed the modernization of criminal law and political change.

But penal transportation was always connected to local factors, as also to the character and needs of empires and nations. Climate, labour requirements and the availability of other workers were all critically important in shaping both the composition and routes of transportation flows as well as the choice of sites and the work that convicts were made to perform. Thus, during the early modern period, Spain used convicts for the purpose of military defence, and in mines and manufacturing, in what was essentially a land-based empire.

Following the independence of Latin 10 America, its empire took on a more maritime character, and it established new penal colonies including in the Philippines and Cuba.

French Guiana

Christian G. Across the broad sweep of contexts represented in this volume, the nature of convict work was extraordinarily diverse. It ranged from land clearance to quarrying, from breaking rocks to draining swamps and cutting down forests. Convicts built and repaired basic infrastructure such as forts, arsenals and stores. They constructed their own huts, barracks and jails, and established networks of connection. The latter included roads, bridges and railways, most famously parts of the Trans-Siberian route in Russia, and also canals, lighthouses and dockyards, including in Aden, Bermuda and Gibraltar.

Convicts made ropes, bricks and ironwork, kept livestock and grew crops, loaded and unloaded boats, and took employment as servants, cooks, grooms and boatmen. They wove cloth, stitched clothing, manufactured shoes and furniture, and even made art or crafted wooden boxes, shell engravings and other small objects that they sold as curiosities to administrators, guards and visitors.


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  7. Some convicts became well known for their paintings and craftwork. In Hokkaido, as Minako Sakata explains, each penal site was associated with a particular labour function, either agriculture, sulphur or coal mining. The use of convict labour could intensify in times of war, both through convict impressment into the army, as in the Spanish and British empires, and in Russia during the First World War when the nation urgently required new roads and railways. This is not to suggest that convict labour was necessarily or always efficient or productive. In some cases, convicts were made to perform non-productive labour tasks that the authorities believed were demoralizing and thus particularly punitive.

    Introduction

    Global convict death rates compared to those of other local and migrant populations are not currently known, though available figures for some locations suggest appalling levels of mortality. Fully one-third of all convicts shipped to the Andamans died within the first eighteen months of arrival in One-third of the convicts working on the Asahikawa to Abashiri road in Hokkaido perished during just one nine-month period in the s Minako Sakata. Though one of the appeals of convict labour was its expendability, where it intersected with other political concerns such extreme death rates could produce changes in penal policy.

    With respect to the global reach of convict labour, there is also a need to rethink current understandings of the historical character of punishment, and in particular the idea that from the late eighteenth-century prisons largely replaced other forms of punishment. Moreover, it is arguable that the carceral rhythms of what we think 11 of as modern forms of imprisonment actually emerged from the experience of penal transportation.

    As the president of the International Prison Commission, Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise, noted just after the First World War, the origins of probationary remission of sentence lay not in prisons but in penal colonies. Beyond its influence on prisoner probation, from the late eighteenth century on, penal colonies were key spaces of innovation in penal technology, perhaps most famously through the development of detailed methods of textual record keeping and later on convict photography and fingerprinting.

    Neither was penal transportation exclusively an imperial phenomenon.

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