Book Spotlight: James Alexander Dun’s Dangerous Neighbors

dun-book-676x1024James Alexander Dun, Dangerous Neighbors: Making the Haitian Revolution in Early America. Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. Hardback.

In conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania Press and James Alexander Dun, Age of Revolutions is proud to offer its fourth revolutionary raffle. Last week, Dun wrote a provocative piece about the female Quaker Elizabeth Drinker whose reflections on the Haitian Revolution showed the limitations of American revolutionary radicalism. Check that post out here.

In order to win the revolutionary raffle, simply subscribe to the site below. Subscription will automatically qualify you to win a hardback copy of Dun’s book and for any future book giveaways on the site. The raffle will close at 11:59PM EST on Sunday, September 25, 2016.

The raffle is now closed.

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Read on below for a synopsis and initial reviews of the book.

Dangerous Neighbors shows how the Haitian Revolution permeated early American print culture and had a profound impact on the young nation’s domestic politics. Focusing on Philadelphia as both a representative and an influential vantage point, it follows contemporary American reactions to the events through which the French colony of Saint Domingue was destroyed and the independent nation of Haiti emerged. Philadelphians made sense of the news from Saint Domingue with local and national political developments in mind and with the French Revolution and British abolition debates ringing in their ears. In witnessing a French colony experience a revolution of African slaves, they made the colony serve as powerful and persuasive evidence in domestic discussions over the meaning of citizenship, equality of rights, and the fate of slavery.

Through extensive use of manuscript sources, newspapers, and printed literature, Dun uncovers the wide range of opinion and debate about events in Saint Domingue in the early republic. By focusing on both the meanings Americans gave to those events and the uses they put them to, he reveals a fluid understanding of the American Revolution and the polity it had produced, one in which various groups were making sense of their new nation in relation to both its own past and a revolution unfolding before them. Zeroing in on Philadelphia—a revolutionary center and an enclave of antislavery activity—Dun collapses the supposed geographic and political boundaries that separated the American republic from the West Indies and Europe.

Reviews of the book

“With this fine book, James Alexander Dun joins a burgeoning and important scholarship reassessing the long-ignored impact of the Haitian Revolution on early America. Based on monumental research, it offers the most comprehensive account we have of Philadelphia’s newspaper coverage and indeed of a broad spectrum of public opinion on the Haitian Revolution as it unfolded. The result shows us not silence but cacophony: a striking portrait of a rich, multifaceted, and contested range of debate. Dangerous Neighbors will make a lasting contribution to the field.”—François Furstenberg, Johns Hopkins University

Dangerous Neighbors elegantly shows how Philadelphians absorbed, debated, and channeled the news of insurrection, emancipation, and independence in the Caribbean. Dun foregrounds the vitality and complexity of print culture as a forum that at once circulated, interpreted, and framed the transformations brought about by the actions of revolutionaries in Saint-Domingue. And he richly shows how engagement with the challenges posed by these events shaped debates about freedom, race, and nation in the United States.”—Laurent Dubois, author of Haiti: The Aftershocks of History

“While offering a deep, nuanced history of the Haitian Revolution,Dangerous Neighbors is first and foremost a study of early American political culture. James Alexander Dun argues the American people defined their own revolution, figured the place of slavery and African-descended people in their new nation, and determined their national identity through the lens of events in the French colony and, later, the black republic.”—Matthew J. Clavin, University of Houston

In this eye-blinking demonstration of archival research, Alec Dun has shone a bright light on the vibrant public discourse spawned in Philadelphia in the 1790s by the Haitian Revolution. In this captivating book, Dun reveals something more of great importance: how black insurrection in the hemisphere’s most ferocious and profitable slave regime sent shock waves up the Delaware River, obliging Philadelphians to rethink the meaning of their own revolution and to consider whether Haiti-in-flames presaged the advent of the universal rights of mankind.”—Gary Nash, University of California, Los Angeles


Check out the book’s announcement on the AAIHS‘s blog site.

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