New Narratives of Revolutionary and (Post) Revolutionary Haiti, Part 2: Sovereignty, Diplomacy, and Citizenship

AHA Session 95
Society for French Historical Studies 3
Friday, January 4, 2019: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Spire Parlor (Palmer House Hilton, Sixth Floor)
Erin Zavitz, independent scholar
Ronald Angelo Johnson, Texas State University

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 second session in this series, “Sovereignty, Diplomacy, and Citizenship,” explores the tumultuous process of state-building and the challenges of securing domestic and international allegiances. In conversation with the first session, these three papers advocate for an extended periodization of the Revolution and a transnational approach to understanding Haitian sovereignty and citizenship. The panelists focus our attention on contemporary notions of governance, “layers of recognition,” and constructions of blackness in the Atlantic World.

Nathalie Frédéric Pierre examines how Haitian statesmen formed governments they thought would suit the needs of a postemanciption society within an enslaved Atlantic world. She contends that Haitian statesmen established the most nationally-diverse governments of the early nineteenth century.

Julia Gaffield continues the conversation of state building through the lens of diplomacy. She proposes that recognition proceeded in a layered fashion. In addition to diplomatic and economic recognition, Haitian leaders worked to secure religious recognition from the Vatican by establishing Roman Catholicism as the state religion. Using the understudied archives of the Vatican, she explores the decades long negotiations to establish normal relations between the Catholic Church and the Haitian state.

The final paper moves us to the end of the nineteenth century when Gaffield’s “layers of recognition” had been achieved. Yet, as Brandon Byrd demonstrates in his investigation of citizenship claims, Haiti remained in a precarious international position vis-à-vis the United States. His paper offers a transnational conclusion to our discussion of Haiti and demonstrates the contested notions of belonging and blackness in a fin-de-siècle Atlantic World.