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April Shelford Associate Professor Emerita History

PhD, History, Princeton University
MA, History, University at Albany
BS, Geography, University at Albany

April G. Shelford is an intellectual historian of early modern Europe. Fall 2023, she published her second book, A Caribbean Enlightenment: Intellectual Life in the British and French Colonial Worlds, 1750-1792, with Cambridge University Press. The book was inspired by a two-year visiting professorship at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, which she held before coming to American University in 2001. Her research into the eighteenth-century Caribbean has also resulted in several articles and a book chapter.

Description from the book jacket: “Exploring the intersection of Enlightenment ideas and colonial realities among white, male colonists in the eighteenth-century French and British Caribbean, A Caribbean Enlightenment recovers a neglected aspect of the region’s history. Physicians to planters, merchants to publishing entrepreneurs were as inspired by ideologies of utility and improvement as their metropolitan counterparts, and they adapted ‘enlightened’ ideas and social practices to understand their place in the Atlantic World. Colonists collected botanical specimens for visiting naturalists and books for their personal libraries. They founded periodicals that created arenas for the discussion and debate of current problems. They picked up the pen to complain about their relationship with the home country. And they read to make sense of everything from parenting to personal salvation, to their new societies and the enslaved Africans on whom their prosperity depended. Ultimately, becoming ‘enlightened’ was a colonial identity that rejected metropolitan stereotypes of Caribbean degeneracy while validating the power to enslave on a cultural basis.”

Shelford initially trained in the history of the seventeenth-century Republic of Letters, focusing on the French scholar, Pierre-Daniel Huet (1630-1721). He was the subject of her first book, Transforming the Republic of Letters: Pierre-Daniel Huet and European Intellectual Life, 1650-1720 (University of Rochester, 2007) and several articles. For three years, she co-edited the Proceedings of the Western Society for French History with the late Donna F. Ryan (Gallaudet University); with Peter Soppelsa (University of Oklahoma), she is currently co-editing a special issue of French Historical Studies on science, technology, and medicine in French and Francophone histories.
See Also
History Department
January speech in Paris - "Friendship in Erudition and Enlightenment"
For the Media
To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.

Partnerships & Affiliations

Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Research Interests

Intellectual history of early modern Europe; the Enlightenment; the Atlantic World; British and French Caribbean history; histories of science, religion, and the classical tradition.

Honors, Awards, and Fellowships

  • Fall 2012: Fellow, John Carter Brown Library, Providence, RI
  • Fall 2009:  Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
  • July 2008:  Library Resident Research Fellow (Isaac Comly Martindale Fund), American Philosophical Society Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Spring 2004:  Fellowship, Camargo Foundation, Cassis, France 
  • 1997-1999: Mellon Fellow at the Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Lecturer in the History Department, Columbia University


  • Research Curator, “New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Cultural Impact of an Encounter,” New York Public Library Exhibition, Fall 1992

Selected Publications

  • A Caribbean Enlightenment: Intellectual Life in the British and French Colonial Worlds, 1750-1792 (Cambridge University Press, 2023)
  • “Loving the Botanist More than Botany? The Emotional Dynamics of a Caribbean Intellectual Friendship, 1755-1766,” Esprit Créateur (2022)
  • "Of Mudfish, Harpsichords, and Books: Libraries and Community in Eighteenth-Century Jamaica,” in Before the Public Library: Reading, Community, and Identity in the Atlantic World, 1650-1850 (Brill, 2017)
  • "Buttons and Blood: 'How to Write an Anti-Slavery Treatise in 1760s Paris," History of European Thought (2015)
  • "Race and Scripture in the Eighteenth-Century French Caribbean," Atlantic Studies (2013)
  • Transforming the Republic of Letters: Pierre-Daniel Huet and European Intellectual Life, 1650-1720 (University of Rochester Press, 2007)
  • “Of Sceptres and Censors: Biblical Interpretation and Censorship in Seventeenth-Century France,” French History (2006)
  • “Cautious Curiosity: The Legacies of a Jesuit Scientific Education,” History of Universities (2004)
  • “Sea Tales: Nature and Liberty in an English Seaman’s Journal,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 33 (2004)
  • “Thinking Geometrically in Pierre-Daniel Huet’s Demonstratio evangelica (1679),” Journal of the History of Ideas (2002). Winner of Selma Forkosch prize for best article in JHI in 2002

Professional Presentations

  • “Slavery & the Sublime in a Revolutionary Era: The French ‘Translation’ of William Beckford’s Descriptive Account of Jamaica,” French Colonial Historical Society, Martinique, May 2023
  • “Promoting Agricultural Improvement in the French Caribbean,” International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Rome, July 2023
  • “Neither the eyes of owls nor the brains of beasts: A Saint-Domingue intellectual corrects metropolitan views of albinos,” French Colonial Historical Society Conference, Charleston, May 2022
  • "Creating Enlightened Citizens: The Periodicals of Saint-Domingue in the 1760s," French and Francophone Enlightenment Workshop, online, February 2021
  • “Experience and Authority: A Colonial Naturalist at Work in Eighteenth-Century Jamaica,” 15th International Congress on the Enlightenment, Edinburgh, Scotland, July 2019
  • “Protest by Proxy: Saint-Domingue & the Stamp Act Crisis,” at the colloquium “Transposition(s) & Confrontation(s) in the British Isles, France and Northern America (1688-1815),” University of Toulon, France, March 2019
  • “Nature, God, & Transcendence in Eighteenth-Century Jamaica,” British Studies Annual Meeting, College Park, College Park, MD, April 2018
  • “When is a colony a province—and vice versa?: Contesting the postwar order in 1760s Saint-Domingue,” presented at the conference “France, Europe and the World,” University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, June 2017
  • “From Exotic Landscape to Mechanized Countryside: Illustrating Caribbean Indigo Production,” in the panel I organized, “Agricultural Enlightenment from Metropole to Caribbean,” French Historical Studies, Washington, DC, April 2017
  • “Voltaire in the Caribbean,” American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, Pittsburgh, April 2016
  • “Male Sociability and Natural History in Eighteenth-Century Jamaica,” presented at “Revolutions in 18th-century Sociability,” joint meeting of the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies and the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society, Montreal, October 2015