Laurie M. Wood’s Archipelago of Justice: Law in France’s Early Modern Empire is the winner of the 2020 Mary Alice and Philip Boucher prize. Archipelago of Justice offers a major contribution to an emerging scholarship seeking to integrate the histories of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean empires in order to better understand how the early modern French empire operated as a whole. Wood achieves this remarkable accomplishment through her focus on the conseils. In the early modern French empire, the conseils—regional law courts—bound a far-flung and diverse imperial system together through a network of institutions, people, and practices. In Archipelago of Justice, Wood focuses our attention across the entire system of these crucial legal institutions (the administrative equivalent of the parlements of metropolitan France), along with the people who staffed them and the subjects who petitioned them, to show how they created power, order, and the very nature of French colonialism. Based on astonishing archival tenacity, the book is beautifully written through powerful case studies and stories that bring to life both the powerful and the marginalized in vivid detail. Its most powerful and creative intervention is surely at the level of framing. Approaching the conseil and its agents as a whole, Wood navigates from the Caribbean to the Indian Ocean, helping us see these frequently separate worlds together, as they were legally bound together in the early modern era through the fascinating history of the conseil.
Professor Wood will be guest blogging at the LHB in the future. In the meantime: many congratulations!