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Empire, Colonies and National Minorities

The ‘French’ and ‘Russian’ revolutions occurred in ethnically diverse states with a weak overall national identity. Both ‘ancien’ regimes were also empires, including overseas territories in the case of France but mainly a land empire in the case of Russia. While issues of nationality have long been associated with the revolution in Russia, especially the special significance of Jews and anti-semitism in ‘the prison house of nations’, it is only in more recent decades that the imperial and colonial reverberations of the French Revolution, notably in the slave colony of Saint-Domingue (later called ‘Haiti’), have been the object of significant scrutiny.

Seminar Questions

  1. Were national minorities over-represented in the French and Russian revolutionary movements? If so, why?
  2. Did the process of revolution among minority nationalities show significant differences from that within the dominant nationality?
  3. Was the USSR in any sense a ‘postcolonial’ entity?
  4. Were Russians a privileged nationality in the USSR?

Core Readings

  • Miranda Spieler, ‘Abolition and Reenslavement in the Caribbean: The Revolution in French Guiana’, in Desan, Hunt and Nelson (eds.), The French Revolution in Global Perspective (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 2013), 132-147.
  • David Geggus, ‘Racial Equality, Slavery, and Colonial Secession during the Constituent Assembly’ in Haitian Revolutionary Studies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 157-170 (ebook)
  • Dominque Godineau, The Women of Paris and Their French Revolution, Katherine Streip (trans.) (Berkeley: UC Press, 1998), Part II, 97-195.
  • Stalin, J.V. Marxism and the National Question (1913) esp chs 4 and 7
  • Party Programme 1919
  • Bukharin, N and Preobrazhensky, E The ABC of Communism ch 7 ‘Communism and the Problem of Nationality’

Further Readings


  • Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005) and A Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804 (Chapel Hill: North Carolina University Press, 2004).
  • Jeremy D. Popkin, You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
  • David P. Geggus (ed.), The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 2001).
  • Malick W. Ghachem, The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
  • Frederic Cople Jaher, The Jews and the Nation: Revolution, Emancipation, State Formation, and the Liberal Paradigm in America and France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002).
  • Sophie Wahnich, Citoyen impossible: L'étranger dans le discours de la Révolution française (Paris: Albin Michel, 1997).


  • Martin, Terry Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union 1923-1939 (Ithaca and London 2001)
  • Martin, Terry "Modernization or Neo-Traditionalism? Ascribed Nationality and Soviet Primordialism". In Stalinism: New Directions, ed. Sheila Fitzpatrick London 2000
  • Hirsch, Francine Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union (Ithaca 2005)
  • Etkind, Alexander Internal Colonization: Russia’s Imperial Experience (Polity Press, Cambridge and Malden 2011)
  • Tolz, Vera Russia (Inventing the Nation: 1721 to the present) (Bloomsbury, London, 2005)
  • Hosking, G.A. Russia and the Russians (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass 2001)
  • Hosking, G.A. Russia: People and Empire 1552-1917 (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass 1997)
  • Billington, James Russia in Search of Itself (Woodrow Wilson Centre, Washington 2004) esp ch 2 pp. 23-46