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A World at Court: Nested Legality and French Empire across the Indian Ocean
Danna Agmon, Virginia Tech

Grant details:

Historical Gaps and Non-Existent Sources: The Case of the Chaudrie Court in French India (Article)
Title: Historical Gaps and Non-Existent Sources: The Case of the Chaudrie Court in French India
Author: Danna Agmon
Abstract: This article develops a typology of historical and archival gaps—physical, historiographical, and epistemological—to consider how non-existent sources are central to understanding colonial law and governance. It does so by examining the institutional and archival history of a court known as the Chaudrie in the French colony of Pondichéry in India in the eighteenth century, and integrating problems that are specific to the study of legal history—questions pertaining to jurisdiction, codification, evidence, and sovereignty—with issues all historians face regarding power and the making of archives. Under French rule, Pondichéry was home to multiple judicial institutions, administered by officials of the French East Indies Company. These included the Chaudrie court, which existed at least from 1700 to 1827 as a forum where French judges were meant to dispense justice according to local Tamil modes of dispute resolution. However, records of this court prior to 1766 have not survived. By drawing on both contemporaneous mentions of the Chaudrie and later accounts of its workings, this study centers missing or phantom sources, severed from the body of the archive by political, judicial, and bureaucratic decisions. It argues that the Chaudrie was a court where jurisdiction was decoupled from sovereignty, and this was the reason it did not generate a state-managed and preserved archive of court records for itself until the 1760s. The Chaudrie’s early history makes visible a relationship between law and its archive that is paralleled by approaches to colonial governance in early modern French Empire.
Year: 2021
Primary URL:
Access Model: Subscription (but currently Open Access)
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Comparative Studies in Society and History
Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Minding the Gaps (Blog Post)
Title: Minding the Gaps
Author: Zehra Hashmi
Author: Danna Agmon
Abstract: N/A
Date: 11/23/2021
Primary URL:
Blog Title: Minding the Gaps
Website: Comparative Studies in Society and History

The Legal Authority of Merchants and Brokers in India’s French Courts (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: The Legal Authority of Merchants and Brokers in India’s French Courts
Author: Danna Agmon
Abstract: The Legal Authority of Merchants and Brokers in India’s French Courts The importance of commercial brokers to the trading world of the eighteenth century, and especially the Indian Ocean, has long been recognized. Through their familial, religious, linguistic, and generational connections, such brokers were at the absolute center of globe-spanning networks of commercial exchange. This paper examines how comercial brokers and other merchants engaged with the French Compagnie des Indes in India were also crucial legal agents in Pondichéry’s French-run courts. Although these courts were staffed by French colonial officials, and dispensed law according to legal codes imported from Paris, commercial brokers and other local merchants were responsible for bringing forward suits, managing their evolution during witness testimonies, and even making decisions regarding sentencing and punishment. Their unofficial roles in French-arbitrated legal matters were recognized and eagerly encouraged by the colony’s French courts. Focusing on a 1743 criminal litigation by the Pondichéry Superior Council regarding the trafficking and enslavement of a large group of Indian men, women and children by a French trader and his local broker, this paper shows how ostensibly French law, derived from metropolitan codes, was enmeshed in the same familial and linguistic networks that facilitated trade in a French colonial city on the Coromandel Coast.
Date: 11/23/2021
Conference Name: Nodes of Early Modern Capitalism, European University Institute, Florence