Exile and Emigration in an Age of War and Revolutions (ca. 1750-1830)

June 22-23, 2018
Workshop at Re:work International Research Center, Berlin
Conveners: Linda Colley (Princeton University) and Jan C. Jansen (GHI)

Sponsored by the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC

Exiles were long at the margins of the enormous historiographies of the American, French, and Latin American revolutions in the half-century between 1776 and 1826. Regarded as the "other" on the wrong side of history, the hundreds of thousands of loyalists, emigrants, refugees, and deportees of this era largely remained a topic of partisan, non-scholarly research and writing. Nevertheless, historians have come to understand emigration and exile as alternative paths to revolution and have started to study the experiences of emigres and refugees. Loyalists, French émigrés, and, more recently, the refugees of the Haitian revolution have become subjects through whom historians are studying the wider impact these revolutions had on Europe, the Atlantic world, and beyond. Yet even as the upheavals in the Atlantic basin have come to be seen as part of an "Age of Revolutions"-or, indeed, as part of a broader "world crisis"-the forced migrations they provoked have remained the subject of separate historiographies. Despite their mobility and participation in networks extending over vast geographic areas, the refugees, emigrants, and exiles during the Age of Revolutions are dealt with as national, if not local peculiarities. 

This workshop puts the history of exiles and refugees back into the larger picture of the transformative period around 1800. To that end, it adopts a decidedly global perspective, which enables us to rediscover exiles as an important segment of Atlantic and global migration during these years. French émigrés not only spread across continental Europe and the United Kingdom but also found their way to North America and the Caribbean. Most American Loyalists were absorbed in the expanding British Empire. The refugees from the revolutions in Saint-Domingue and the Spanish Main poured into other colonies in the Caribbean and the United States. Although the Atlantic world emerged as a core region of refugee movements during this period, the movements of exiles also reached far beyond the confines of the Atlantic basin. Loyalists and French émigrés followed British expansion in South Asia, which, in turn, drove many Indian princes and politicians into exile. Hundreds of Irish deportees ended up in Australia.

By putting political exiles and refugees at the center of inquiry, the workshop seeks to cast new light on the Atlantic and global history of the momentous decades around 1800. Core questions are: What concepts and patterns of political exile emerged during this period? What were their (racial, social, gender, national) underpinnings? Do the movements and activities of exiles offer new insights into the connections between different theaters of the revolutionary Atlantic and beyond? Does a focus on outcasts and marginal figures change or challenge the conventional wisdom about the "Age of Revolutions"? Does it provide a new picture of the links between revolution, global warfare, emancipation, and the rise and fall of empires during this period?

This workshop invites scholars of the histories of American, French, Haitian, and Latin American revolutions, the Irish Rebellion and their refugee movements address these questions. Possible topics include:

  • critical reflections on core concepts such as "refugee," "émigré," "exile," or "counter-revolution" in Atlantic or global perspective.
  • trends and desiderata in the historiographies of emigration and exile during the Age of Revolutions;
  • case studies comparing or exploring the connections between different refugee/exile movements; 
  • diasporic approaches examining connections and interactions of refugee/exile communities across imperial and national boundaries;
  • case studies using refugees/exiles as a way to shed new light on the Age of Revolutions.

Working Format

The 1.5-day workshop seeks to bring together leading historians of the American, French, Haitian and Latin American revolutions with scholars of imperial, migration and refugee history. The focus will be on exploring intersections and making connections between the different fields, on opening new perspectives and identifying understudied questions. In order to guarantee intense discussion, the workshop will not exceed four panels of 2-3 papers and 1 comment each. The discussions will be based on pre-circulated papers submitted five weeks in advance. The workshop will be conducted in English. A publication, either a special issue of a journal or an edited volume in the GHI's book series with Cambridge University Press, is planned.