The World of the Haitian Revolution Print

Review by: Yvonne Fabella
NWIG: New West Indian Guide / Nieuwe West-Indische Gids, Vol. 85, No. 1/2 (2011), pp. 130-
Published by: BRILL on behalf of the KITLV, Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and
Caribbean Studies
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The heroic dimensions of the people of Culebra and Vieques who strug­ gled against the military fill the pages of this book. They faced a long battle against a powerful institution that was completely deaf to their pleas and fought to keep its favorite target range in the Caribbean.
Before concluding this review, I would note the recent publication of the memoirs of Ramon Feliciano Encarnacion, the mayor of Culebra who engaged Copaken's services, La victoria de Monchin: Memoria de Ia expul­ sion de Ia Marina de Cu/ebra (2009). Now we are fortunate to be able to read the account of two of the main actors in the Culebra saga.


FELICIANO ENCARNACION, RAMON, 2009. La victoria de Monchin: Memoria de Ia expulsion de Ia Marina de Culebra. San Juan: Fundaci6n Ia Voz del Centro.

The World of the Haitian Revolution. DAVID PATRICK GEGGUS & NORMAN FIERING (eds.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2009. xviii + 419 pp. (Paper US$ 24.95)

YVONNE FABELLA Department of History University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia PA 19104, U.S.A.
<This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;

The last decade has witnessed a remarkable surge of interest in the Haitian Revolution, particularly among Anglophone scholars. Helping to fuel this interest was the bicentennial of Haiti's independence from France, cel­ ebrated in 2004 even as political chaos erupted once again in the troubled nation. The essays collected in The World of the Haitian Revolution were first presented at a conference commemorating the bicentennial and hosted by the John Carter Brown Library. A provocative prologue by former Haitian ambassador to the United States Jean Casimir and a useful epilogue by Robin Blackburn bookend the volume's eighteen essays, which are divided into five chronological sections. Together they provide a rich sample of recent work on colonial and revolutionary Haiti, and on the revolution's impact in the


broader Atlantic world, in a format both accessible to a wide academic audi­
ence and of import and interest to specialists.
Several essays offer fresh perspectives on old questions. John Garrigus
and Dominique Rogers, for example, challenge long-held interpretations of the status of the gens de cou/eur (free people of color) in the colonial period. Whereas scholars have traditionally understood segregationist and discrimi­ natory policies toward the gens de cou/eur as a reaction against free colored social mobility, Garrigus locates the origin of such policies in official fears over white creolization instead. Rogers moves in another new direction, pro­ viding convincing evidence of the social and economic integration of gens de couleur with whites, thereby challenging the traditional narrative in which color prejudice is assumed to have become more rather than less salient in the pre-revolutionary period. Yves Benot's essay also belongs in this group, disrupting the assumption that independence became an objective of insur­ gent leaders only late in the revolution. His work, presented at the confer­ ence in the year before his death, documents that some leaders conceived of independence as early as 1791, the first year of the slave revolt, and in spite of their royalist rhetoric.
Other essays reflect the field's recent tum toward political culture and the history of representation. For example, Gene Ogle links white colonial autonomism to the growth of a public sphere in Saint Domingue, one in which free colonists appealed to public opinion in order to challenge royal absolutism. In a fascinating analysis of the gendered meanings of eman­ cipation, Elizabeth Colwill examines the often-ignored practice by which formerly enslaved soldiers of the French Republic could liberate enslaved women and their children through marriage prior to general emancipation. French Republican officials argued that fighting for the republic and becom­ ing husbands would "regenerate" formerly enslaved men into masculine, republican citizens. But revolution and family did not cohere so neatly, as Colwill demonstrates; war brought with it a "profound dislocation in the intimate terrain of women's lives," especially for enslaved women whose owners hastily sold them before fleeing the colony.
Laurent Dubois adopts a cultural historical approach in his analysis of
revolutionary violence, which, he argues, cannot be studied apart from the "politics of representation" in which it occurred. Contemporary European chroniclers of the Revolution understood well the impact of graphic descrip­ tions of insurgent violence on their readers, while revolutionary leaders con­ sidered how the western world would interpret their treatment of whites. Likewise, Ashli White shows that white creole refugees to the United States cited the violence of both French and ex-slave armies in order to explain the origins and success ofthe revolution. Meanwhile, U.S. whites contrasted the brutality of slavery in Saint Domingue to their own allegedly more humane slave system, thereby justifying the latter.

White's essay exemplifies one of the strongest themes in the volume: the revolution's impact outside of Haiti. Joao Jose Reis and Fhivio dos Santos Gomes demonstrate the fear aroused in Brazilian slaveowners and authori­ ties by the memory of the Haitian Revolution in the early nineteenth century, when "haitianismo" became a generic term to identify unrest by nonwhites. Yet Ada Ferrer's sharp analysis of Cuba moves beyond the typical assump­ tion that the revolution caused a generic sense of panic among Atlantic world slaveowners and vague inspiration in slaves. Local, specific threats of slave resistance fueled the fear of Cuban planters as much as the memory of the revolution, she argues, and slaves engaged with news of current Haitian events as much as they did accounts of the revolution, finding concrete sources of inspiration in both.
Perhaps most importantly, the volume demonstrates rich opportunities
for new research. Jacques de Cauna offers a glimpse of the remains of Saint Domingue's built environment. Haiti, he notes, is a "living museum" of cre­ ole plantation society whose architectural heritage is both understudied and underfunded. Sue Peabody reveals U.S. court records- particularly suits for freedom by enslaved people - to hold a wealth of primary material for his­ torians interested in both the experiences of nonwhite refugees from Saint Domingue and the legal history of the Atlantic world. Several other chapters begin to explore an important yet long-ignored question: the perception and reception of the Haitian Revolution in France. Malick Ghachem and Jeremy Popkin address such concerns in separate articles on revolutionary politics, while Alyssa Sepinwall and Leon-Fran ois
Revolution in nineteenth- and twentieth-century F ench
Readers can come away from this volume reassured that the Haitian Revolution is finally receiving the attention it deserves from scholars across fields and around the globe. However, one is still left with a nagging discom­ fort provoked by the knowledge that so few Haitian voices are involved in this international conversation, and that the attention tends not to benefit the Haitian people directly. Blackburn briefly addresses these issues, propos­ ing that the international community of scholars commit itself to supporting Haitian efforts at historic preservation, a need made clear by de Cauna's essay. Given all that Haiti's past has taught us, it seems the least we can do.

  • Saturday, 07 June 2014


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