New Narratives of Revolutionary and (Post) Revolutionary Haiti, Part 1: Thinking within and without 1791–1804

AHA Session 71
Society for French Historical Studies 2
Friday, January 4, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Spire Parlor (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
Manuel Covo, University of California, Santa Barbara
Marlene L. Daut, University of Virginia

Session Abstract

Over twenty years ago, Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot published Silencing the Past which articulated how the archive and historiography had silenced the Haitian Revolution and, by extension, independent Haiti. His call led to a flourishing of new scholarship, primarily on the Revolution, questioning the “unthinkability” of Haiti’s Revolution. The 2010 earthquake, however, exposed the persistence of pervasive and destructive ideas about Haiti and its sovereignty in the global community of nations. Trouillot's silences remained, and Haitian anthropologist Gina Athena Ulysse, pronounced a corollary call for “new narratives of Haiti” to pierce through the ossified and pernicious rhetoric towards the Caribbean nation. Once again, scholars responded and a plethora of new books and articles on Haiti have appeared in last decade. The Haitian Revolution has a place in U.S. history textbooks, the Library of Congress updated its spelling of “voodoo” to Vodou, and the Academie Française elected a Haitian writer. Nevertheless, as the recent comments of President Trump remind us, the silences of Haiti’s past continue to hold the power to banalize, to erase, and to whitewash. In the spirit of Trouillot and Ulysse, this double panel explores some of the vibrant emerging scholarship on revolutionary and (post) revolutionary Haiti. The panels illuminate the continuities and transformations of Haiti’s past by reconfiguring the archive; testing disciplinary, historiographic, and temporal loyalties; and emphasizing transimperial and transnational perspectives.

The first session, “Thinking Within and Without 1791-1804,” moves beyond the thirteen-year period of 1791-1804 and explores the fluidity of the revolutionary era unhindered by prefixes of pre and post. The four papers also challenge scholars to think beyond imperial boundaries and archives to shed light on the actions of revolutionary figures who have often been relegated to the margins: religious intermediaries, free women of color, and the enslaved.

Robert Taber draws on over 2,000 notarial and 1,500 parish records from Saint-Marc and Léogane to explore the social relationships of women of color. Tracing these archival connections illuminates the bonds of community that formed between women of color in the late eighteenth century, including across the boundary between free and enslaved, providing a needed corrective.

Erica Johnson examines the history of the religious body of Saint-Domingue from 1789-1804. She contends that interactions between the religious, the French government, and the peoples of African descent influenced the revolutions in Saint-Domingue.

Jesús Ruiz explores evidence from Spanish colonial archives that suggests the existence of a counterrevolutionary conspiracy in Saint Domingue, where royalist whites and free blacks sought to destroy French Republicanism in the colony and uphold the monarchy of Louis XVI. His paper offers new thoughts on how we might read the events leading up to August 1791 in Saint Domingue through a deeply transimperial perspective.

The final paper builds on Ruiz’s transimperial gaze and turns our attention to Kongo contributions to the Revolution. Christina Mobley argues that Kongo used knowledge and practices as tools to recreate autonomous communities of belonging in the aftermath of slavery and that they constituted the building blocks of independent Haitian society.