Tenants of empire: Uncovering connections between French Caribbean and Acadian archipelagos through nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature

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University of New Brunswick


This study uses literature to examine cultural histories of Acadians and Afro-descendant peoples in the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. Literary cultures of each of these communities demonstrate the resilience of culture and history, while also speaking to struggles of settler colonialism, enslavement, and deportation. This dissertation applies the concept of “tenants of empire” to describe the different experiences of Acadians, as well as of Martinicans and Guadeloupeans of African descent, as they formed communities inside the confines of French and British social, economic, and political imperial structures. Through comparing the uniqueness, similarities, and convergences in the evolution of nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature by Acadian authors and by authors of African descent in Martinique and Guadeloupe, this dissertation demonstrates that while these communities are distinct in terms of histories of racialization, colonial trauma, and resistance, literary histories reveal connections. Literature demonstrates how Acadian and Afro-descendant authors from Martinique and Guadeloupe negotiated imperial relationships with France, struggled to identify a “homeland,” claimed history on their own terms, and aimed to acquire political and social autonomy in the aftermath of French and British imperial expansion. As marginalized societies under the authority of the French and British imperial powers and, later, the French and Canadian nation-states, Acadians and descendants of enslaved Africans in Martinique and Guadeloupe occupy archipelagic spaces, yet share points of connection. Connections between these societies occur as a result of shifts in literary production and historical understanding that are interwoven with political movements led by Acadians and by Martinicans and Guadeloupeans of African descent in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.