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Kelly Brignac

Graduate Student Affiliate


Kelly Brignac

Kelly Brignac is a Ph.D. student in international history at Harvard University. She studies the forced indenture (engagement à temps) of Africans in the French empire, especially in Senegal and the southwestern Indian Ocean, from 1817 to 1861. After the French abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1817, French colonists and state officials began purchasing captives on African slaving markets, then offering the captive his or her freedom. Freedom came with a heavy cost, though: the individual would have to work on French plantations for fourteen years to repay the price of his or her “redemption.” Kelly’s dissertation traces the evolution of this practice across the French empire. She studies how and why it began simultaneously in what is today Senegal and Nosy Boraha, Madagascar, then its growth along the western and eastern coasts of Africa. She is particularly interested in the intersections between engagement and slaving and the social lives of engagés. Her research has been supported by the Fulbright IIE, the John Carter Brown Library, the Society for French Historical Studies, Harvard’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and Harvard’s Center for African Studies. She has presented her research at the American Historical Association and the Consortium on the Revolutionary Era. She received her M.A. in history from Vanderbilt University and her B.A. in history from Millsaps College.

This information is accurate for the time period that the scholar is affiliated with CES.


  • Ph.D. Student in International History, Harvard University
  • Graduate Student Affiliate, CES, Harvard University