Miranda Spieler

Associate Professor

  • Department: History and Politics
  • Office: 

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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


Books, book chapters and articles
  • “Mobility,” in A Culture History of Western Empires, vol. 5, ed. Kristin McKenzie, 109-130 (Bloomsbury, 2019).
  • “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.
  • “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. French translation (Alma Éditeur 2016). Awarded the J. Russell Major Prize (2013) and the George Mosse Prize (2013), from the American Historical Association; finalist for the Wylie Prize in French Cultural Studies.
  • “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.” The William and Mary Quarterly 66, no. 2 (April 2009): 365-408.
  • 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

Invited Talks
  • “L’Italie et l’Antiquité : imaginaire et voyage au siècle des Lumières » (final comment/conclusions de la journée), Sorbonne Journée d’Étude, 21 June 2019. Organized by Giovanna Cesarani, Jean-François Dunyach, and Simon MacDonald.
  • “Between Slavery and Freedom in Eighteenth-Century France: A Tale of Two Cities,” Indiana Center for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Annual Workshop, 10 May 2018. Organized by Rebecca Spang.
  • “Slavery in Imperial Paris,” Legal Histories of Slavery, Stanford Law School, 15 March 2018. Organized by Amalia Kessler and Elizabeth Katz.
  • “Droit et justice,” Colloque international Formation et transformation des sociétés nouvelles en situation coloniale aux Amériques du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle, 18 décembre 2017, EHESS, Paris. Organized by Cécile Vidal.
  • “Slave Voice and the Legal Archive: The Case of Freedom Suits before the Paris Admiralty Court,” Slave Narratives in British and French America, 1700–1848, Notre Dame London Global Gateway, 14 July 2017. Organized by Sophie White and Trevor Burnard.
  • “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 Études 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.
  • “Slave Flight, Slave Torture, and the State: Nineteenth Century French Guiana.” The Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Ohio, 24 February 2014.
  • “The lettre de cachet and the operations of sovereignty in Ancien Régime France.” Sovereignty: Stages and Frontiers, New York University, May 3-4 2013.
  • “The Vanishing Black Children of Paris.” Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History, Law and the French Atlantic, Newberry Library, 5 October 2012.
  • “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.
  • “The perils of pluralism in the French Atlantic: The erosion of revolutionary liberty and the transition back to slavery in French Guiana 1794-1809.” The Symposium on Comparative Early Modern Legal History, New Perspectives on Legal Pluralism, Newberry Library, Chicago, 23 April 2010.


  • “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.
  • “What is the Age of Revolutions? The Transnational Perspective.” Roundtable discussion, Consortium on the Revolutionary Era Annual Meeting, Oxford, Mississippi, 21 Feb. 2014.
  • “The Unmaking of Free Soil in French Guiana: Land and Law During the Transition Back to Slavery.” Invited talk in mini-conference organized by Lynn Hunt on the French Revolution in Global Context, Consortium on Revolutionary Europe Annual Meeting, Tallahassee, 3-5 March 2011.
  • “The Leblond Affair (1812-1830): Land, Law, and Fictions of Identity in the New Regime.” Western Society of French History Annual Meeting, Lafayette, Louisiana, 23 Oct. 2010.
  • Comment for panel on civil law and society with Judith Surkis, Sylvia Schaffer, and Camille Robcis. Society for French Historical Studies Annual Meeting, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 4 April 2008.
  • “The Legal Framework for Convict and Ex-Convict Life in French Guiana 1852-1870.” American Society for Legal History Annual Meeting, Tempe, Arizona, 27 October 2007.
  • “Maroons and Colonists in French Guiana.” French Colonial History Society Annual Meeting, La Rochelle, 8 June 2007.
  • “French Guiana between the Two Emancipations.” Society for French Historical Studies Annual Meeting, Houston, TX, 16 March 2007.
  • “Commissarial Dictatorship and the Overseas Empire,” Consortium on the Revolutionary Era Annual Meeting, Arlington, VA, 2 March 2007.


  • Radio interview about colonial history with host Shelly de Vito for Vocable Magazine, 12 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.


  • External Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center, Sept. 2017-June 2018.
  • Faculty Fellow, George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention, 2016-present.
  • J. Russell Major Prize from the American Historical Association for the best book in English related to France, 2013.
  • George L. Mosse Prize for a book of “extraordinary scholarly distinction, creativity and originality in the intellectual history of Europe since 1500” from the American Historical Association, 2013.
  • Laurance S. Rockefeller Visiting Fellow, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University, 2007-8.
  • Comargo Foundation Fellowship, Spring 2007-8 (declined).
  • Social and Behavior Sciences Research Institute Grant, Univ. Arizona, Spring 2006.
  • Whiting Fellowship, 2001-2.
  • Social Science Research Council International Dissertation Research Fellowship, 2000.


  • 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.