“Botany, Race, and Gender in Enlightenment Saint-Domingue and Guyane”

OI Colloquium with Meghan Roberts and Laurie Wood

In 1767, the free woman of color Charlotte Dugée absconded from the Patris botanical expedition, for which she was a French state-appointed specimen illustrator, into the forests of Guyane, never to be heard from again. Unlike typical Enlightenment scientific practitioners – overwhelmingly white, male, Europeans – Dugée had been born in the Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue, a woman of mixed race and possibly recent manumission. But she had also attained the rare status of brevet, an official designation of expertise, usually granted to scientific practitioners with metropolitan reputations and royal patronage. This article probes this paradox to center women of mixed race in the story of colonial and Enlightenment science.

Meghan K. Roberts is associate professor of history at Bowdoin College. A specialist in Enlightenment history who focuses on science, medicine, and gender, Roberts is the author of Sentimental Savants: Philosophical Families in Enlightenment France (Chicago, 2016) and is currently working on a book project titled “Charlatan Wars: Enlightenment Struggles for Medical Authority.”

Laurie Wood is associate professor of history at Florida State University. A historian of the early modern world, her research focuses on Francophone history in comparative and global perspectives with attention to legality, risk, and place. Her first book, Archipelago of Justice: Law in France’s Early Modern Empire, came out with Yale in 2020 and her current book project is Flickering Fortunes: Women, Catastrophe & Complicity in the French Tropics.


The OI’s Colloquium Series is an ongoing seminar for scholars to present their work in progress for graduate students and colleagues.  Advanced registration is required. All participants read the pre-circulated  paper and prepare to engage in generous and generative feedback.

When we meet in person we are limited by the size of the OI’s conference room; online we limit registration to 40 (a typical size for the colloquium). No recordings are made of the discussions and no tweeting or posting on other social media platforms during the event is permitted in order to encourage this intellectual community of trusted exchange.


Contact Beverly Smith for your copy.