Compensations and Reparative Politics: A View from the Nineteenth Century

Compensations and Reparative Politics: A View from the Nineteenth Century

Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, ERC Project Atlantic Exiles (Friedemann Pestel, Jan Jansen)
Friedemann Pestel, Jan Jansen
Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities
Findet statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
06.11.2024 - 08.11.2024
Friedemann Pestel, Historisches Seminar, Lehrstuhl für Neuere und Neueste Geschichte Westeuropas, Albert-Ludwig-Universität Freiburg

We are inviting scholars to apply for a conference on the intersecting regimes of postrevolutionary compensation in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Compensations and Reparative Politics: A View from the Nineteenth Century

International conference hosted by the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and co-sponsored by the ERC Project Atlantic Exiles

November 6 to 8, 2024

Convenors: Friedemann Pestel (University of Freiburg), Jan C. Jansen (University of Tübingen)

We are inviting scholars to apply for a conference on the intersecting regimes of postrevolutionary compensation in the first half of the nineteenth century.
Generally considered a laboratory of political modernity, the “age of revolutions,” occurring during the decades around the year 1800, was also marked by an outburst of civil and interstate violence across the world. Societies and the state system, which took shape after the ends of the wars in North America, in France under Napoleon, and in Latin America, grappled with the consequences of more than a quarter century of civil war violence, interstate warfare, destruction, confiscation of property, and forced migrations. The postrevolutionary order grew out of profound conflicts over the political, societal, and material consequences of revolution and war and the return, or permanent resettlement, of hundreds of thousands of political migrants. The effects of Haitian independence in 1804 extended far beyond France and informed further struggles on the continuation, reform, and abolition of the slave trade and enslavement, in particular within the British and Spanish empires.

Despite the variety of contexts and issues, societies and states tended toward strikingly similar strategies of settling the material consequences of expropriation, exile, emancipation, and war of the revolutionary period, at the center of which stood large-scale financial reparation. At the end of the American War of Independence, the British government responded to the migration of American loyalists to the Crown with a support program that regulated the compensation of land loss or the allocation of new land in other parts of the empire. The state’s task to compensate for loss of property due to revolution and war also manifested itself during the French Revolution. While the National Assemblies punished emigration with confiscation of property, French émigrés benefited from state support in Britain, the United States, or Spain. These countries also assisted planters expelled by the Caribbean slave uprisings, who also received financial support from revolutionary France.

State-run compensation schemes gained new relevance in the postrevolutionary peace agreements, because they intersected with the settlement of material war consequences between the allied powers and France, including one of the highest war reparations ever paid, in terms of national income and repayment rate. Such agreements also gave way to restitution programs of looted artworks. In the 1820s, France set up large-scale compensation programs for the revolutionary confiscations of émigré property and for the loss of colonial property in the wake of the Haitian Revolution. The latter – ten times its state revenue – was imposed on the independent state of Haiti in exchange for diplomatic recognition. This last compensation scheme foreshadowed sweeping state-organized compensation programs for enslavers that accompanied the British and French abolition of slavery in the 1830s and 1840s, requiring the British to borrow the single largest amount by the state during the entire century. The independence of the Latin American states in the 1810s likewise raised the question of how to deal with property confiscations, and it impacted the abolition of slavery, with and without compensating enslavers.

In short, financial transfers of unprecedented proportions and acts of reparation to former exiles, enslavers, war parties, and victims of occupation policies affected hundreds of thousands of people directly and millions indirectly. These transactions turned the “age of revolutions” into an “age of compensations,” the contours of which are only beginning to show in scholarship.

In pulling together new research from different specialized historiographies, the conference seeks to explore and integrate the different arenas and strands of this “age of compensations.” We postulate that, when viewed together, the fundamental significance of reparative politics becomes apparent for postrevolutionary, post-migrant, and postcolonial orders in nineteenth-century Europe, the Atlantic world, and beyond. We interrogate the rationalities, interests, and calculations of the actors involved, the ambiguities and long-term impact of the material transfers, and their interconnections and potential changes in time.

What advantages did compensation offer (to whom), and what were the alternatives that were considered and ultimately rejected in the postrevolutionary moment? In what instances (and why) was compensation ruled out? How did the political, social, and economic costs of compensation relate to the legitimacy and stability of constitutional systems, political institutions, and legal systems? What preexisting practices of assistance and moral or legal cultures informed the postrevolutionary compensation schemes? How strongly connected were the various compensation schemes across national and imperial boundaries and across their various fields of application (political expropriation, abolition, independence, war damages, etc.)? What were the long-term effects of these massive transfers of capital?

The conference also discusses these questions against the backdrop of present-day debates about how to cope with conflict-ridden and wrongful histories – of wartime violence, expropriation, slavery, colonial domination, forced displacement, or racial persecution – that regularly gravitate toward the concept of compensations. It will do so by bringing specialists of nineteenth-century compensation cases into conversation with scholars studying twenty-first-century reparative politics from legal, postcolonial, and economic perspectives as well as memory studies.

We seek contributions from all geographies that focus either on one case of postrevolutionary/postwar compensation during the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century or on transfers or connections between them. We particularly welcome fresh work from scholars working in the fields of political, social, and legal history; migration studies; diplomatic history; colonial and imperial history; security studies; economic and financial history; and histories of slavery and warfare.

Possible topics include (but are not limited to):
- actors, logics, conflicts, and ambiguities shaping individual compensation schemes
- exclusions and hierarchies defining access to compensation
- interactions between state and non-state actors
- practices of restitution
- connections, transfers, or genealogies between compensation policies relating to war damages, forced migration, and slavery
- interconnections between relief and compensation schemes
- compensations as financial investments and public debts
- long-term political, social, material effects of individual compensation schemes
- references and echoes of nineteenth-century compensation schemes in twentieth- and twenty-first-century debates

The conference will be held in person at the Heidelberg Academy of Science and Humanities based on written papers of 4,000 to 5,000 words, circulated in advance. We ask that the papers be submitted by October 1, 2024. The workshop language is English. The organizers will cover basic expenses for travel and accommodation.

A published collection (special issue or edited volume) will be developed based on the workshop.

Please send an abstract of your proposed paper (c. 300 words), together with a short CV, by April 15, 2024 to Jan Jansen ( and Friedemann Pestel (


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