The narratives on the Haitian Revolution
Historiography as a product of socialization and contemporary perception
Hausarbeit 2011 18 Seiten
2. Literature review
3. Methodology / Silencing the Past
4. Historiography on Haiti
4.1. The Haitian Revolution
4.2. Narratives on the Haitian Revolution
4.2.1. Revolutions, Rebellions and Insurrections
4.2.2. Inferiority meets luck?
Historiography throughout history, history is told by the winners. Can something be lost or be silenced?
History, that is being taught in schools is a fact to us. As kids, we sit in our classrooms and know that everything we read and learn is a simple fact that happened some thousand, hundred or ten years ago. As part of our basic education, it socializes us and shapes us in how we perceive and analyze events, occasions, theories and ideas. On this basis, we then start our higher education and try to learn, analyze and create on the next level. We use the scientific and academic tools in the way we were socialized. Although everybody claims to be objective, one has to realize, that this is a very high set goal to achieve, if it is even achievable. Our moral, our ethics, our believes and our education always help us shape our ideas.
In this respect, it is only logical to discuss the possibility, that some things we learned in school, some things that we take as proven, hard fact history, could be not so sure or at least narrated from a special viewpoint. Throughout the history of mankind, nations and societies have risen and fallen, and the narratives about the fallen were created or at least heavily influenced by the risen or victorious. It is difficult to find Mayan sources about the conquistadores. Even if not fallen, even if risen, some nations still were reviewed by the „superior“ nations. A perfect example for this is the case of the Haitian Revolution. As the first revolution of a former slave colony, even a successful revolution, one might think that this historical event might be one of importance.
But did we, in Europe or the USA, learn about it in history class as kids? Why is it, that only a tiny amount of people know about the fight of the oppressed on this French colony and their striving for freedom, equal rights and self determination, while everybody knows about the French Revolution and its effects? True, the French Revolution had a far greater impact on the political, cultural and sociological spheres and can be considered as the starting point of the reshaping of Europe. But is the first black revolution - that happened almost simultaneously to the French Revolution - and its effect on universal human rights, black culture and democratization worth a little bit more than the contemporary image of Haiti as a failed state in the Caribbean that has been hit by an earthquake?
In this paper, several works on the Haitian Revolution will be reviewed critically on the basis of the concept of silencing the past, derived from the book ,Silencing the Past. Power and the Production of Historyʻ by Michel-Rolph Trouillot. The questions asked, being the basis of this inquiry are ,What has been written on the Haitian Revolution?ʻ, ,How do the rhetorics differ from historiography on western revolutions?ʻ and finally ,has the past been silenced?ʻ in a way, Trouillot proposes it in his concept. The underlying hypothesis therefore is: Historiography about the Haitian Revolution of the 20th century is written on the basis of a superior viewpoint on the inferiority of Haiti as a nation.
While not enquiring the influence of racism and slavery on the matter, or the (possibly) flawed historicity,1 the paper shall shed light on the semantics of authors, who reviewed the Haitian Revolution throughout the 20th century. Therefore, a short literature review on the topic will follow the introduction before the concept of Silencing the Past will be reviewed. As a next step, after a brief overview of the Haitian Revolution the focus will be laid on the semantic analysis of the used literature, followed by a summary and the conclusion.
2. Literature review
The existing literature on the Haitian Revolution provides an abundance of political narratives, especially after the independence of Haiti. Sir James Barskettʻs History of the Island of St. Domingo in 1818 or Johnathan Brownʻs History and Present Condition of St. Domingo in 1837 are just two examples of optimistic reviews of the Haitian Revolution, whereas other authors are more critical and warn about the abolition of colonies, like James Franklin in his book The Present State of Hayti in 1828. Throughout the 20th century, historiography of the Haitian Revolution was influenced by Social Darwinism, racism or other cultural and sociological views (this will be reviewed in chapter four). The person of Toussaint L ʻ Ouverture got more and more attention and is reviewed in many works. Subsequent histories of the Haitian Revolution, written either as biographies or studies of leaders, were created by Hubert Coleʻs Christophe, King of Haiti in 1967 or George Tysonʻs Toussaint Louverture (1973), in which the major theme is developed around individual leaders.
Throughout the end of the 20th century, a change in historiography of the Haitian Revolution can be observed. Books like Carolyn E. Fickʻs The making of Haiti: the Saint Domingue revolution from below in 1990 or Michel-Rolph Trouillotʻs Silencing the Past. Power and the Production of History in 1995 initiated a different and more critical view on the matter that influenced the work of Laurent Duboisʻ Avengers of the New World from 2007 or the collected works of David P. Geggus (e.g. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World, 2001 or The World of the Haitian Revolution, 2009) at the beginning of the 21th century.
The concept of Silencing the Past by Michel-Rolph Trouillot will be shed light on, as it is fundamental to the methodology of this paper.
3. Methodology / Silencing the Past
The concept of Silencing the Past is a philosophy of history, telling the reader how history is created by historians, whereas reality is created by events and processes. The crux is, from Trouillots point of view, that history is the narration of a reality seen by a historian. While trying to create a narrative as accurate as possible, a lot of the past, even when preserved in records or sources, gets passed over or silenced. Trouillot explains in his book, how history is being produced and how the silencing of the past occurs.
1 Trouillot, M., Silencing, 1995, p. 4 f.