Associate Professor

of European History and the College

PhD 2002 Columbia University

Social Science Research Building, room 517 – Office
(773) 702-2631 – Office telephone
(773) 702-7550 – Fax

Field Specialties

French history; the Enlightenment; the French Revolution; the Atlantic world; history of political thought; and early modern capitalism


Paul Cheney is an historian of Europe with a specialization in old regime France and its colonial empire. Before beginning his PhD training in history at Columbia University, he studied political economy at the New School for Social Research. He has taught at Columbia University, the European College of Liberal Arts (Berlin), and the Queen's University of Belfast.

The unifying element of Professor Cheney’s work is an interest in early modern capitalism, and in particular the problem of how modern social and political forms gestated within traditional society. Old regime France serves as an excellent case study in this problem because of the way in which it combined real economic dynamism with deep-seated political and social impediments to growth. He addresses France’s integration into a globalized early modern economy in a methodology diverse way, drawing on intellectual, economic, and social history. His first book, Revolutionary Commerce: Globalization in the French Monarchy (Harvard University Press, 2010), examined how French philosophes, merchants, and administrators understood the adaptability of the French monarchy to the modernizing forces of primitive globalization. Currently, he is working on a second book entitled, Cul de Sac: Patrimony, Capitalism, and Slavery in French Saint-Domingue (University of Chicago Press, 2017), a micro-history of one plantation in France’s richest colony. He has published in such journals as The William and Mary QuarterlyPast & PresentDix-Huitième siècle, and Les Annales historiques de la révolution française.


Cul de Sac: Patrimony, Capitalism, and Slavery in French Saint-DomingueChicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

Revolutionary Commerce: Globalization and the French Monarchy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.

Selected Articles

"Commerce." In The Cambridge Companion to the French Enlightenment, edited by Daniel Brewer, 44–49. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Aufklärung und die politische Ökonomie des Kolonialismus.” In Der moderne Staat und „le doux commerce”–Staat, Ökonomie und internationales System im politischen Denken der Aufklärung, edited by Olaf Asbach, 207–228. Nomos: Baden-Baden, 2014.

With Alan Forrest, Lynn Hunt, Mathias Middel, and Karine Rance. "La révolution française à l'heure du Global Turn." Annales historiques de la Révolution française 374 (December 2013). [link requires subscription access].

With Loïc Charles. "The Colonial Machine Dismantled: Knowledge and Empire in the French Atlantic." Past and Present 219 (May 2013). [link requires subscription access]

"A Colonial Cul de Sac: Plantation Life in Wartime Saint-Domingue, 1775-1783." Radical History Review: Special issue Haitian Lives /Global Perspectives 115 (Winter 2013): 45–54. [link requires subscription access]

"A False Dawn for Enlightenment Cosmopolitanism? Franco-American Trade during the American War of Independence." The William and Mary Quarterly 63 (July 2006): 459–484. [link requires subscription access]

"L'Histoire du commerce." In Le Cercle de Vincent de Gournay: savoirs économiques et pratiques administratives en France au milieu du xviii siècle, edited by Loïc Charles, Frédéric Lefebvre, and Christine Théré, 281–302. Paris: INED, 2011.

"Finances, Philosophical History and the 'Empire of Climate': Enlightenment Historiography and Political Economy.Historical Reflections 31, no. 1 (2005): 141–67. [link requires subscription access]

"Les économistes français et l'image de l'Amérique: l'essor du commerce transatlantique et l'effondrement du 'gouvernement féodal'." Dix-huitième siècle 33 (2001): 229–243.

"Constitution and Economy in David Hume's Enlightenment." In David Hume's Political Economy, edited by Margaret Schabas and Carl Wennerlind. London: Routledge, 2008.

"Lumières écossaises." In Dictionnaire électronique Montesquieu. [en ligne]

Recent Graduate Courses

  • The French Revolution
  • Old Regime France
  • Atlantic Worlds, c. 1700–1800
  • Political Economy and the Invention of Society, c. 1680–1830
  • Montesquieu and the Enlightenment, with Robert Morrissey, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures
  • Revolutionary Culture in Eighteenth-Century France and America, with Eric Slauter, Department of English


“The French Revolution,” radio interview on WGN Chicago, Extension 720, March 22, 2011.