Miranda Spieler

Associate Professor

  • Department: History
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Professor Spieler joined the faculty of the American University of Paris in 2012. She holds an AB from Harvard College, where she studied the history and literature of France and Germany. In graduate school at Columbia University in New York, she worked as assistant to the writer Susan Sontag, taught Columbia's flagship course, Contemporary Civilization, and served as lecturer in Harvard's History and Literature program. After graduate school, she joined the department of history at the University of Arizona, where she received tenure in 2011.

She is an historian of France and the overseas empire and writes about law and imperial violence. She is especially interested in using archives to recover the elusive and fragmentary traces of marginal people, including slaves, former slaves, immigrants, prisoners, and vagabonds in France and in former colonies. Her research for Empire and Underworld led her to archival depositories in France and in French Guiana (where she spent six months).

Her new book project focuses on the story of people of color living in Paris and in the port cities of France during the eighteenth century.


  • PhD awarded with distinction (May 2005), M.Phil (May 1998), M.A. (October 1996), Columbia University, Department of History
  • AB magna cum laude (June 1994), Harvard College


I am on leave for the 2017-2018 academic year while a fellow at the Stanford Humanities Center. While there, I will be working on my new book, SLAVES IN PARIS, which is a character driven exploration of French legal culture that draws on police, admiralty, and notarial sources from the eighteenth century.


Books, book chapters and articles
  • “Abolition and Reenslavement in the Caribbean: The Revolution in French Guiana.” In Lynn Hunt, Suzanne Desan, and William Nelson, eds. The French Revolution in Global Perspective. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, April 2013.
  • “France and the Atlantic World.” In Peter McPhee, ed., Blackwell Companion to the French Revolution (2012), 57-72.
  • Empire and Underworld: Captivity in French Guiana. Harvard Historical Series, Harvard University Press, April 2012. Awarded the J. Russell Major Prize (2013) and the George L. Mosse Prize (2013) from the American Historical Association.
  • “The destruction of liberty in French Guiana: law, identity and the meaning of legal space, 1794-1830,” Social History 32, no. 3 (August 2011): 260-279.
  • “The Structure of Colonial Rule during the French Revolution 1789-1802,” William and Mary Quarterly (April 2009)
  • "Mobility,” chapter 3 inThe Bloomsbury Cultural History of Western Empires, ed. Kristin McKenzie (forthcoming 2018).
  • “The Vanishing Slaves of Paris: The Lettre de Cachet and the Emergence of an Imperial Legal Order in Eighteenth-Century France.” In Zvi Ben-Dor Benite, Stefanos Geroulanos, and Nicole Jerr, eds., The Scaffolding of Sovereignty: Global and Aesthetic Perspectives on the History of a Concept. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017.
  • “Slave Flight, Slave Torture and the State: Nineteenth Century French Guiana.” French Politics, Culture and Society, vol. 33, no. 1, Spring 2015.
  • Review of Jeremy Popkin, You are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery (2011). Annales. Histoire, Sciences sociales 67 (June 2012): 516-518.
  • Comment on Ian Coller, Islam and the Making of Modern Europe 1798-1830 in H-France Forum, vol. 7 (winter 2012).
  • Review of Benjamin Claude Brower, A Desert Named Peace: The Violence of France’s Empire in the Algerian Sahara, 1844-1902, The Journal of Modern History 83, no.4 (December 2011): 905-907.
  • Review of Lynn Festa, Sentimental Figures of Empire in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France for H-France 8, no. 107 (Aug. 2008).

Conferences & Lectures

  • “Slave Flight, Slave Torture, and the State: Nineteenth Century French Guiana.” Invited speaker at the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Ohio, 24 February 2014.
  • “Name Changing in France after Napoleon: The Enduring Effects of War on Personal Identity, Invited speaker at Ending War: 1814 and 1815, mini-conference sponsored by the Consortium on the Revolutionary Era, Oxford, Mississippi, 22 February 2014.
  • “What is the Age of Revolutions? The Transnational Perspective.” Roundtable discussion, CRE, Oxford, Mississippi, 21 February 2014.
  • “The lettre de cachet and the operations of sovereignty in Ancien Régime France, Sovereignty: Stages and Frontiers, Interdisciplinary Conference sponsored by Global Research Initiative, Jordan Center and Remarque Institute, New York University, May 3-4 2013.
  • “The Vanishing Black Children of Paris,” 2012-13 Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History, Law and the French Atlantic, Newberry Library, 5 October 2012, organized by Richard Ross and Alan Greer (invited).
  • “Revisiting the Free Soil Principle,” public lecture on 21 Sept. 2012 at Uppsala University (Sweden) in the context at university seminar on Colonial Courts in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean 17th-19th Centuries, organized by Fredrik Thomasson (invited).
  • “The Leblond Affair (1812-1830): Land, Law, and Fictions of Identity in the New Regime,” Western Society of French History Annual Meeting, Lafayette, Louisiana, November 2010.
  • “The perils of pluralism in the French Atlantic: The erosion of revolutionary liberty and the transition back to slavery in French Guiana 1794-1809,” Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History, New Perspectives on Legal Pluralism, Newberry Library, 23 April 2010 (invited talk).
  • “Victor Hugues in French Guiana,” Western Society for French History Annual Meeting, Quebec City, 7 November 2008.
  • ‘Fondements politiques, juridiques et territoriaux de la nation, en métropole et dans les colonies,” XVIIe-XIXe Colloque International, Être et se penser Français. Nation, sentiment national et identités dans le monde atlantique français du XVIIe au XIXe siècle Centre d’Études nord-américaines, Ecoles des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, 16 octobre 2008 (invited talk).
  • “The Crimes of History, the Rights of Man, and the ‘Taubira Law’ Revisited: Rethinking the Revolutionary Colonial Era, and the Origins of Haiti, from a Reparationist Perspective,”
  • Ethnohistory Seminar, University of Pennsylvania, 24 Sept. 2008 (invited talk).
  • “Outside the City, On the Loose: Ex-Convicts and Surveillance in the Nineteenth Century,” Princeton University, Dept. of History, lunch talk, 10 April 2008 (invited talk).
  • Commentator, panel on civil law and society with Judith Surkis (Harvard), Sylvia Schaffer (Univ. Conn), and Camille Robcis (Cornell University), Society for French Historical Studies Annual Meeting, Rutgers New Jersey, 4 April 2008.
  • “From Slaves to Citizens and Back Again: French Guiana in the early nineteenth century,” Conference in honor of Isser Woloch, Columbia University, 30 November 2007.
  • “Law and the Imperial Imagination in the French Atlantic,” Atlantic History Workshop, University of Florida, Tallahassee, 3 November 2007 (invited talk).
  • “The Legal Framework for Convict and Ex-convict Life in French Guiana 1852-1870,” American Society for Legal History, Annual Meeting, October 2007, Tempe, Arizona.
  • “Maroons and Colonists in French Guiana,” French Colonial History Society, Annual Meeting, La Rochelle, June 2007.
  • “French Guiana between the Two Emancipations: Slaves, Freedmen and the Law in the Early Nineteenth Century,” Society for French Historical Studies Annual Meeting, Houston, TX, April 2007.
  • “Commissarial Dictatorship and the Overseas Empire,” Consortium on the Revolutionary Era Annual Meeting, Arlington, VA, March 2007.
  • “Estranged Dominion: The Structure of Colonial Rule during the French Directory 1795-1799,” Society for French Historical Studies Annual Meeting, Champaign-Urbana, IL, March 2006.
  • “The Dry Guillotine,” Harvard Seminar on the History of the Atlantic World, August 2002.
  • “Myths and Realities of the Guillotine Sèche,” Society for French Historical Studies Annual Meeting, Toronto, April 2002.
  • “Civic deviance and National Frontiers: The Clergy and the Legislative Assembly,” Consortium on Revolutionary Europe (Auburn), February 2001. Published in the proceedings. 


  • Radio interview about colonial history with host Shelly de Vito for Vocable Magazine, ˆ12 Sept. 2017. 
  • Solo guest on French and English-language versions of Focus, long format (20 minute) TV news program, 10 April 2017. 
  • Television interview (in English) about uprising in French Guiana for France 24, 4 April 2017. 
  • Television interview with Mohamed Kacim for “64’: l’essentiel du monde en français,” TV5 Monde, Paris, 11 July 2016.
  • Radio interview with Emmanuel Laurentin, host of “La Fabrique de l’histoire,” France Culture, 11 April 2016.
  • “Citoyenneté et Esclavage: aux marges de l’empire au XIXe siècle.” Public lecture/interview, Rendez-vous de l’histoire (book festival), Blois (France), 9 October 2015. 
  • “Français ici et la-bas? Citoyenneté, Colonies et Décolonisation.” Public conversation with Cécile Vidal and Bernard Trepied, Pompidou Museum, Paris, 3 Nov. 2014. 


  • Slave Voice and the Legal Archive: The Case of Freedom Suits before the Paris Admiralty Court.” Invited talk for “Slave Narratives in British and French America, 1700–1848,” conference organized by Sophie White and Trevor Burnard, Notre Dame London Global Gateway, 14 July 2017. 
  • “Les esclaves sur le sol libre: relecture de Paris comme ville impériale, v. 1760 – v. 1790.“ Invited talk for “Pour une histoire transnationale et globale de la France,” faculty seminar organized by Nicolas Delalande (Science-Po), Quentin Deluermoz (Paris 13), and Blaise Wilfert-Portal (ENS), 21 June 2016. 
  • “Les gens de couleur à Paris au XVIIIe siècle.” Invited talk for “Les sources documentaires du fait colonial,” masters seminar organized by Cécile Vidal, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, 2 May 2016. 
  • “The Slaves of Paris: Revelations from the Archives de la Bastille.” Beyond France, Columbia University faculty seminar, co-chaired by Gregory Mann and Emmanuelle Saada, New York, 10 April 2015.


  • “Marrons de la Guyane Française: la loi et la violence 1830-1870.” Annual meeting of the Caribbean Studies Association, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 6 June 2016. 
  • “Law and the Humanities.” Roundtable discussion, American Historical Association Annual Meeting, New York City, 4 January 2015. 


  • French historical society
  • Western society for French history
  • American society of legal history
  • French colonial history society

Research Areas

Legal history, legal theory, slavery and abolition, race, criminality, colonial history, history of Paris, France 1750-1850.