The slavery registers of the French colonial empire listed as UNESCO world heritage

Since 18th May 2023, the Registers identifying enslaved persons in the former French colonies (1666-1880) have been listed in the international register of the UNESCO “World Memory” program. Among these documents are collections conserved by the Reunion departmental archives.

Since 2021, the Departmental Council of Reunion had officially been supporting the application to be listed, piloted by the Foundation for the Memory of Slavery, and is today delighted to announce that the process has been successful.




The aim of UNESCO ‘World memory’ is both to conserve the extraordinary documentary heritage of humanity and also to facilitate access to these documents. Under the auspices of the Foundation for the Memory of Slavery, France and Haïti had jointly proposed an emblematic corpus of documents naming enslaved persons in the former French colonies (17th century-1848). These documents are taken from several sources: Catholic certificates, registers of emancipation, censuses and registers of fugitive slaves.

The system of slavery denied the civil existence of these persons and the registers represent the rare written traces which give these people an element of individuality and humanity. They present undeniable historical and social interest, in the currently developing context of family research and quest for identity.

The listing in the ‘World Memory’ grants international recognition for the heritage value of these documents and the work carried out by the different institutions.






For several decades now, the Reunion departmental archives has been carrying out the work of classification, restoration, digitisation and enhancement of these sets of documents: the emancipation registers, held since 1832 and the 1848 special registers are available online, and can be accessed and appropriated by the general public. They were presented physically for the first time to the public during several exhibitions (1998: Regards croisés sur l’esclavage (Comparative visions of slavery) 1794-1848; 2013: Les Noms de la liberté, 1664-1848: de l’esclave au citoyen (The names of liberty, 1664-1848From slave to citizen); 2019: Le jour de l’abolition. Dissiper la brume (Abolition day. Dissipating the mist).





Through its long-term work in this field, the Departmental Council of Reunion demonstrates the unfailing will to make the complex heritage linked to the memories of slavery available to all.

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