Haitian Revolution Reading List

Age of Revolutions Reading List #4

Haitian Revolution

For our fourth list, we asked Marlene Daut and John Garrigus – two experts in the Haitian Revolution – to list the top five books they would suggest to graduate students or colleagues entering the field for the first time. Below you will find their lists, followed by brief descriptions culled from their book jackets. Comment below to make your own suggestions.

Suggested by Marlene Daut, Claremont Graduate University

Ada Ferrer, Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution

  • “During the Haitian Revolution of 1791–1804, arguably the most radical revolution of the modern world, slaves and former slaves succeeded in ending slavery and establishing an independent state. Yet on the Spanish island of Cuba barely fifty miles distant, the events in Haiti helped usher in the antithesis of revolutionary emancipation. When Cuban planters and authorities saw the devastation of the neighboring colony, they rushed to fill the void left in the world market for sugar, to buttress the institutions of slavery and colonial rule, and to prevent “another Haiti” from happening in their own territory. Freedom’s Mirror follows the reverberations of the Haitian Revolution in Cuba, where the violent entrenchment of slavery occurred at the very moment that the Haitian Revolution provided a powerful and proximate example of slaves destroying slavery. By creatively linking two stories – the story of the Haitian Revolution and that of the rise of Cuban slave society – that are usually told separately, Ada Ferrer sheds fresh light on both of these crucial moments in Caribbean and Atlantic history.”

Laurent Dubois, A Colony of Citizens: Revolution and Slave Emancipation in the French Caribbean, 1787-1804

  • “The idea of universal rights is often understood as the product of Europe, but as Laurent Dubois demonstrates, it was profoundly shaped by the struggle over slavery and citizenship in the French Caribbean. Dubois examines this Caribbean revolution by focusing on Guadeloupe, where, in the early 1790s, insurgents on the island fought for equality and freedom and formed alliances with besieged Republicans. In 1794, slavery was abolished throughout the French Empire, ushering in a new colonial order in which all people, regardless of race, were entitled to the same rights. But French administrators on the island combined emancipation with new forms of coercion and racial exclusion, even as newly freed slaves struggled for a fuller freedom. In 1802, the experiment in emancipation was reversed and slavery was brutally reestablished, though rebels in Saint-Domingue avoided the same fate by defeating the French and creating an independent Haiti. The political culture of republicanism, Dubois argues, was transformed through this transcultural and transatlantic struggle for liberty and citizenship. The slaves-turned-citizens of the French Caribbean expanded the political possibilities of the Enlightenment by giving new and radical content to the idea of universal rights.”

Carolyn Fick, Making Haiti: The Saint Domingue Revolution from Below

  • “In this pioneering study, Carolyn E. Fick argues that the repressed and uneducated slaves were the principal architects both of their own freedom and of the successful movement toward national independence.  Fick identifies “marronage,” the act of being a fugitive slave,  as a basic unit of slave resistance from which the revolution grew and shows how autonomous forms of popular slave participation were as important to the success of the rebellion as the leadership of men like Toussaint Louverture, Henri Christophe, and Dessalines. Using contemporary manuscripts and previously untapped archival sources, the author depicts the slaves, their aspirations, and their popular leaders and explains how they organized their rebellion.”

John Garrigus, Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue

  • “This book details how France’s most profitable plantation colony became Haiti, Latin America’s first independent nation, through an uprising by slaves and the largest and wealthiest free population of people of African descent in the New World. Garrigus explains the origins of this free colored class, exposes the ways its members supported and challenged slavery, and examines how they shaped a new ‘American’ identity.”

David Geggus, Haitian Revolutionary Studies

  • “The Haitian Revolution of 1789–1803 transformed the Caribbean’s wealthiest colony into the first independent state in Latin America, encompassed the largest slave uprising in the Americas, and inflicted a humiliating defeat on three colonial powers. In Haitian Revolutionary Studies, David Patrick Geggus sheds new light on this tremendous upheaval by marshaling an unprecedented range of evidence drawn from archival research in six countries. Geggus’s fine-grained essays explore central issues and little-studied aspects of the conflict, including new historiography and sources, the origins of the black rebellion, and relations between slaves and free people of color. The contributions of vodou and marronage to the slave uprising, Toussaint Louverture and the abolition question, the policies of the major powers toward the revolution, and its interaction with the early French Revolution are also addressed. Questions about ethnicity, identity, and historical knowledge inform this essential study of a complex revolution.”

Special mention: Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History

  • “Michel-Rolph Trouillot places the West’s failure to acknowledge the most successful slave revolt in history, the Haitian Revolution, alongside denials of the Holocaust and the debate over the Alamo and Christopher Columbus in this moving and thought-provoking meditation on how power operates in the making and recording of history. Silencing the Past analyzes the silences in our historical narratives, what is left out and what is recorded, what is remembered and what is forgotten, and what these silences reveal about inequalities of power. Weaving personal recollections from his lifetime as a student and teacher of history, Trouillot exposes forces less visible—but no less powerful—than gunfire, property, and political crusades. This twentieth-anniversary edition of Trouillot’s pioneering work features a new foreword from renowned scholar Hazel V. Carby that speaks to the continuing influence of Silencing the Past on the fields of anthropology, history, and African American, Caribbean, and postcolonial studies—as well as to the book’s unique pedagogical value as an introduction to historical analysis. “

Suggested by John Garrigus, University of Texas at Arlington*

*Be sure to check out Garrigus’s stellar Zotero page for a more extensive list on the Haitian Revolution as well as bibliographies on subjects ranging from the Atlantic Revolutions to environmental history.

Laurent Dubois, Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution

  • “The first and only successful slave revolution in the Americas began in 1791 when thousands of brutally exploited slaves rose up against their masters on Saint-Domingue, the most profitable colony in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. Within a few years, the slave insurgents forced the French administrators of the colony to emancipate them, a decision ratified by revolutionary Paris in 1794. This victory was a stunning challenge to the order of master/slave relations throughout the Americas, including the southern United States, reinforcing the most fervent hopes of slaves and the worst fears of masters. But, peace eluded Saint-Domingue as British and Spanish forces attacked the colony. A charismatic ex-slave named Toussaint Louverture came to France’s aid, raising armies of others like himself and defeating the invaders. Ultimately Napoleon, fearing the enormous political power of Toussaint, sent a massive mission to crush him and subjugate the ex-slaves. After many battles, a decisive victory over the French secured the birth of Haiti and the permanent abolition of slavery from the land. The independence of Haiti reshaped the Atlantic world by leading to the French sale of Louisiana to the United States and the expansion of the Cuban sugar economy.”

David Geggus, Haitian Revolutionary Studies

  • See above. Read emphasis, not redundancy

Jeremy D. Popkin, You Are All Free: The Haitian Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery

  • “The abolitions of slavery in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue in 1793 and in revolutionary France in 1794 were the first dramatic blows against an institution that had shaped the Atlantic world for three centuries and affected the lives of millions of people. Based on extensive archival research, You Are All Free provides the first complete account of the dramatic events that led to these epochal decrees, and also to the destruction of Cap Francais, the richest city in the French Caribbean, and to the first refugee crisis in the United States. Taking issue with earlier accounts that claim that Saint-Domingue’s slaves freed themselves, or that French revolutionaries abolished slavery as part of a general campaign for universal human rights, the book shows that abolition was the result of complex and often paradoxical political struggles on both sides of the Atlantic that have frequently been misunderstood by earlier scholars.” 

John Garrigus, Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue

  • See above. Read emphasis, not redundancy

Malick Ghachem, The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution

  • “The Haitian Revolution (1789–1804) was an epochal event that galvanized slaves and terrified planters throughout the Atlantic world. Rather than view this tumultuous period solely as a radical rupture with slavery, Malick W. Ghachem’s innovative study shows that emancipation in Haiti was also a long-term product of its colonial legal history. The key to this interpretation lies in the Code Noir, the law that regulated master–slave relations in the French empire. The Code’s rules for the freeing and punishment of slaves were at the center of intense eighteenth-century debates over the threats that masters, and not just freedmen and slaves, posed to the plantation order. Ghachem takes us deep into this volatile colonial past, digging beyond the letter of the law and vividly reenacting such episodes as the extraordinary prosecution of a master for torturing and killing his slaves. This book brings us face-to-face with the revolutionary invocation of Old Regime law by administrators seeking stability, but also by free people of color and slaves demanding citizenship and an end to brutality. The result is a subtle yet dramatic portrait of the strategic stakes of colonial governance in the land that would become Haiti.”

What books do you think are actively shaping the field?

8 thoughts on “Haitian Revolution Reading List

  1. Thanks to Marlene and John for putting this list together; all of these works are absolutely crucial in my work. A couple more:

    David Geggus’s The Haitian Revolution: A Documentary History includes informative essays and many previously unpublished sources. Very helpful for students and for getting a refresher on the narrative.

    Geggus and Fiering’s The World of the Haitian Revolution includes articles from over a dozen scholars and a close read indicates many of the key historiographical disputes in the field.

    And, yes, John’s Zotero page is a terrific resources, particularly for identifying the articles written by Haitian and French scholars that too often go overlooked in the US historiography.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. While I appreciate the recommended texts on the Haitian Revolution, there is not a reference to any text written by Haitian historians. In addition, there are no texts mentioned in French or Spanish.

    Like

  3. This is a very great list! For those interested in French titles written by Haitian authors (or others) I can think of a few monographs off my head such as:

    – Le projet national de Toussaint Louverture et la Constitution de 1801 (2001) by Claude Moïse

    – Constitutions et luttes de pouvoir en Haïti, 1804-1987 (1999) by Claude Moïse

    – La colonie française de Saint-Domingue: de l’esclavage à l’indépendance (2004) by François Blancpain (a French author)

    – Aux origines du drame d’Haïti : droit et commerce maritime, 1794-1806 (2006) by Vertus Saint-Louis

    – Genèse de l’état haïtien, 1804-1859 (2009) by Michel Hector, Laënnec Hurbon et al.

    I hope this helps!

    Liked by 1 person

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