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Hommages à Marcel Dorigny

Hommage à Marcel Dorigny

Pernille Røge

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1The first time I met Marcel Dorigny was in early 2007. I had just moved to Paris to begin a year of research for my doctoral dissertation and had been offered the opportunity to present my work on the colonial ideas of the French Physiocrats at a journée d’étude at Université Paris 8. After my presentation, during a break in the program, a man in his late fifties walked up to me to introduce himself. I knew instantly who this person was. I recognized his inquisitive and slightly hooded eyes, unmistakable hair, and amused smile from my searches on the internet trying to learn more about his scholarship. A photo of him had come up on a website linked to his work on the Comité national pour la mémoire et l’histoire de l’esclavage. Now standing right in front of me, I was awestruck. All I could mutter in response when he gave me his name was a befuddled “Je sais !”

  • 1 Marcel Dorigny (ed), Les abolitions de l’esclavage : de L. F. Sonthonax à V. Schoelcher. 1793-1794- (...)

2It is no exaggeration when I say that my doctoral research took shape in the margins of Dorigny’s publications. I had become interested in the history of slavery and abolition during the French Revolution as an undergraduate and wanted to look deeper into this topic during my graduate studies in England. Marcel Dorigny’s edited volume, The Abolitions of Slavery from L. F. Sonthonax to Victor Schoelcher, 1793, 1794, 1848, had just come out in English. I picked it up together with his and Bernard Gainot’s guide to France’s first two abolitionist societies, La Société des Amis des Noirs, 1788-1799.1 The former was a translation of a French volume published in 1995, based on a conference commemorating the bicentenary of the first French abolition of slavery. It included over thirty essays and provided a roadmap to the scholarly debates and historiographical landscapes of the long struggle for the abolition of slavery in France. The latter contained the minutes of over one hundred meetings held by the Société des amis des noirs, accompanied by 708 footnotes brimming with detailed biographical information about each of the societies’ members. Perhaps most transformative for me was Dorigny’s introduction, which contextualized the work of these abolitionists and tied them to a broader history of transatlantic abolition. I became particularly intrigued by his discussions of the liberal agenda of several of the society’s members, their interest in political economy, and their proposal to create new colonies in Africa. It was the prehistory to these issues that I ended up researching for my doctoral dissertation. No wonder I was awestruck that day at Paris 8.

  • 2 Yves Bénot and Marcel Dorigny (eds), Rétablissement de l’esclavage dans les colonies françaises : 1 (...)
  • 3 Roland Desné and Marcel Dorigny (eds), Les lumières, l’esclavage, la colonisation, Paris, Édition l (...)

3Over the next fifteen years, I was fortunate to remain in close contact with Dorigny. During my year in Paris, we would begin to meet regularly for lunch to discuss my research. Our conversations were always enjoyable, touching on topics ranging from travel, literature, and film, to food, art, and—of course—history. As he learned of the details of my work, he would sometimes bring books for me that he had edited and which spoke to my interests. His and Yves Benot’s edited volumes on the Rétablissement de l’esclavage dans les colonies françaises : 1802 Aux origines de Haïti and their Grégoire et la cause des Noirs (1789-1831), as well as his edited volume on Léger-Felicité Sonthonax, all three collections of essays expanded my understanding of the complexities of abolitionist struggles during the Age of Revolutions.2 Sometimes, we discussed the works that I had encountered in his volumes: studies by Bernard Gainot, Michèle Duchet, Jean Ehrard, Philippe Steiner, and, of course, his friend, Yves Benot, whose scholarship he knew inside out, not just the main monographs but also Benot’s articles, many of which Dorigny and Roland Desné had assembled in a single volume and written a beautiful introduction to.3

4Knowing that I was a foreign student without an institutional home in Paris, Dorigny would also help me connect with other scholars in France. He would send along invitations to history seminars and introduce me to specialists and doctoral students at the monthly sessions of the Association pour l’étude de la colonisation européenne (1750-1850) (APECE) at l’Université Paris 1. When I went to do archival research in Bordeaux, Aix-en-Provence, and Marseilles, he would recommend local museums and art collections that touched on Europe’s colonial and slave trading history. As a member of the Comité national pour la mémoire et l’histoire de l’esclavage, he alerted me to the inauguration of Fabrice Hyber’s Le cri in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the first national monument that commemorated the slave trade as a crime against humanity and was erected that year.

5I thus came to know Dorigny not just as a historian and specialist but also as an engaged interlocutor, a dedicated participant in the politics of memory over the French Republic’s slave trading past, a kind and generous mentor, and a door opener for scholars, whether French or foreign. He was never showy about his generosity to fellow (often junior) scholars; indeed, it was often imperceptible to anyone but the person fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of his kindness. It came in the form of his willingness to be a sounding board, through invitations to participate in workshops, conferences, or lecture series, and through the introductions he made between you and other scholars. It came in the form of invitations to publish or to write a book review, through his efforts to translate foreign scholarship into French, and in the many prefaces he wrote to the publications of his colleagues. He was a great facilitator of scholarly exchange, a forger of connections between people across academic hierarchies and national borders, whether they happened in public or during the warm, vibrant dinners that he and his wife hosted at their home in the 18th arrondissement.

  • 4 Anja Bandau, Marcel Dorigny, Rebekka von Mallinckrodt (eds), Les mondes coloniaux à Paris au xviiie(...)
  • 5 Marcel Dorigny, Atlas des premières colonisations xve -début xixe siècle : des conquistadores aux l (...)
  • 6 Marcel Dorigny, Arts et lettres contre l’esclavage, Paris, Éditions Cercle d’Art, 2018; Id., Les ab (...)

6My return to England at the end of 2007 made in-person meetings a rarity and we shifted our mode of communication toward e-mails. Dorigny would check in to hear how my doctoral work was going and, after I graduated, how my book was coming along. I kept abreast of his publications too, writing my first book review on Les mondes coloniaux à Paris au xviiie siècle. Circulation et enchevêtrement des savoirs, which he co-edited with Anja Bandau and Rebekka von Mallinckrodt.4 After I relocated across the Atlantic Ocean, he would continue to offer me books that he thought would be relevant to me. One of my favorites is his Atlas des premières colonisations, a teaching tool which exposes Dorigny’s agility as a synthesizer of a complex historical past.5 His retirement in 2013 in no way slowed down these publishing activities, as his Arts & Lettres Contre l’Esclavage and his Que sais-je? on the abolitions of slavery demonstrate.6 When the pandemic hit, and sent us all into lockdown, he pointed to the silver lining: “Cela permet d’écrire les textes en retard !” (“This is an opportunity to catch up on my writing!”)

  • 7 Marcel Dorigny, Jean Marie Théodat, Gusti-Klara Gaillard, and Jean Claude Bruffaerts, Haïti-France. (...)

7After his sudden passing in September 2021, works carrying his imprint as a scholar and collaborator continue to appear. His most recent joint publication, which appeared in February 2022, Haïti-France. Les chaînes de la dette : Le rapport Mackau (1825), offers access to a little-known source on the reparations that Haiti was asked to pay in 1825, when France recognized Haiti’s independence.7 Who knows, perhaps a young researcher will find the inspiration for a doctoral thesis in the margins of this volume? If so, they will have further guidance in Dorigny’s countless publications over the past three decades that stand as a scaffolding for the history of abolitionist struggles in France and in the Caribbean. His many years of public media appearances helped inspire a French reckoning with the country’s slave-owning and slave-trading past, and, within the context of his wide-ranging scholarly community, his ability to facilitate, connect and support energized networks and collaborations across borders and enriched so many lives and careers. His legacy included enormous contributions to our knowledge of the French colonial past; national and international colleagues will cherish his memory dearly.

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Notes

1 Marcel Dorigny (ed), Les abolitions de l’esclavage : de L. F. Sonthonax à V. Schoelcher. 1793-1794-1848, Paris: Presses universitaires de Vincennes/Éditions UNESCO, 1995; and in English: Id. (ed), The Abolitions of Slavery from L. F. Sonthonax to Victor Schoelcher, 1793, 1794, 1848, UNESCO Publishing/Berghan Book, 2003. Marcel Dorigny and Bernard Gainot, La Société des Amis des Noirs, 1788-1799 : Contribution à l’histoire de l’abolition de l’esclavage, Paris, UNESCO, 1998.

2 Yves Bénot and Marcel Dorigny (eds), Rétablissement de l’esclavage dans les colonies françaises : 1802. Ruptures et continuités de la politique colonial française (1800-1830). Aux origines de Haïti, Paris, Maisonneuve & Larose, 2003; Id. (eds), Grégoire et la cause des Noirs (1789-1831) : combats et projets, 2nd edition, Paris, Publications de la Société française d’histoire d’Outre-mer et de l’Association pour l’étude de la colonisation européenne, 2005; Marcel Dorigny (ed.), Léger-Félicité Sonthonax : La première abolition de l’esclavage. La Révolution française et la Révolution de Saint-Domingue, Paris, Association pour l’étude de la Colonisation Française, 2005.

3 Roland Desné and Marcel Dorigny (eds), Les lumières, l’esclavage, la colonisation, Paris, Édition la découverte, 2005.

4 Anja Bandau, Marcel Dorigny, Rebekka von Mallinckrodt (eds), Les mondes coloniaux à Paris au xviiie siècle. Circulation et enchevêtrement des savoirs, Paris, Karthala, 2010.

5 Marcel Dorigny, Atlas des premières colonisations xve -début xixe siècle : des conquistadores aux libérateurs, Paris, Éditions Autrement, 2013.

6 Marcel Dorigny, Arts et lettres contre l’esclavage, Paris, Éditions Cercle d’Art, 2018; Id., Les abolition de l’esclavage (1793-1888), Paris, Que sais-je ?, Presses universitaires de France, 2018.

7 Marcel Dorigny, Jean Marie Théodat, Gusti-Klara Gaillard, and Jean Claude Bruffaerts, Haïti-France. Les chaînes de la dette : Le rapport Mackau (1825) (Paris : Maisonneuve & Larose, 2022).

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Pernille Røge, « Hommage à Marcel Dorigny »La Révolution française [En ligne], 23 | 2022, mis en ligne le 29 juin 2022, consulté le 09 août 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lrf/6974 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/lrf.6974

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Pernille Røge

University of Pittsburgh

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