Prof. Malick Ghachem’s book garners high praise

May 1, 2012

PORTLAND, Maine – Prof. Malick Ghachem of the University of Maine School of Law has written the first comprehensive account of the role of law in the transformation of Haiti from a slave colony into an independent nation.

The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution was published in March by Cambridge University Press. Authors and history scholars are calling the book a major contribution to our understanding of the emergence of modern-day Haiti and of the history of slavery.

The book spans the period from 1685 to 1804, when Haitians became the first formerly enslaved people to overthrow a colonial power. Drawing from a wide range of historical sources, Ghachem takes the reader into the intense legal and political debates of the time. Many of those debates centered on the Code Noir, the law that governed the relations between masters and slaves in the far-reaching French empire. Code Noir recognized that the behavior of masters – not just the behavior of slaves – was a threat to the stability and order of the plantation system, such as the one that developed on Saint-Domingue, which would later become Haiti. Ghachem follows a series of challenges to the law of the empire, culminating with the Haitian Revolution.

According to Cambridge University Press: “Ghachem takes us deep into this volatile colonial past, digging beyond the letter of the law and vividly re-enacting such episodes as the extraordinary prosecution of a master for torturing and killing his slaves.”

Ghachem said he researched the subject for his dissertation while studying at Stanford University, where he earned a Ph.D. in history in 2002. “It really began when I discovered the story of this one French colonial lawyer in the 1780s, Moreau de Saint-Méry, who was going back and forth between France and Saint-Domingue.,” Ghachem said. “He was a key to this story because he assembled a massive amount of material.”

Ghachem knew that he wanted to write a book on the topic, but he essentially put the project on hold as he clerked for a federal appeals court and then practiced law in Boston from 2005 to 2010, working primarily in the areas of criminal defense, employment discrimination and commercial and securities litigation. He continued his research for the book in 2010, when he left private practice and joined the University of Maine School of Law. By then, many of the source materials that Ghachem used for the book had been digitized and were available online.

The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution has received praise in early reviews, posted on the Cambridge University Press website.

“This book will have a major impact on our understanding of the single most important turning point in the history of New World slavery. A revolutionary study of revolution, this beautifully written and deeply researched work shows that the 'rupture narrative' has obscured critical aspects of continuity and the ways in which laws governing master-slave relations provided a changing framework for action in the slaves' quest for freedom,” wrote David Brion Davis, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus and Director Emeritus of Yale's Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition.


Media contact: Trevor Maxwell, communications director at Maine Law
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