Understanding Haiti’s Past: A Reading List

First and foremost, I’d like to say that this post isn’t about painting Haiti as a picture of continued extreme turmoil, trouble and disaster. Haiti has such a beautifully rich and inspiring culture, but has been plagued with fits of corruption, natural disaster and political unrest through the country’s entire existence. Recently, Haiti has been featured in the news more frequently due to these incidents taking place so closely together in time: the assassination of their President Jovenel Moïse in early July, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake with a death toll of over 2,000 this month and flooding from Tropical Storm Grace following the earthquake. Below is a recommended reading list that details some moments in time showing how Haiti has arrived at its current state. As Peniel Joseph, Haitian-American writer for CNN, stated in his Op-ed today, I agree that it’s essential that we understand and hold accountability for the role the U.S. has played in the past and current affairs of Haiti. As I mentioned, I didn’t want to make this purely about highlighting the hardships Haiti is currently dealing with, so I’ve chosen to include a link to another recommended reading list we published in May in celebration of Haitian Heritage Month. That reading list is more of a celebration of Haiti’s culture and leadership in Black revolution.

If you’re interested in donating to help the people of Haiti, here are some resources you can consider.


TAKING HAITI: MILITARY OCCUPATION AND THE CULTURE OF U.S. IMPERIALISM, 1915-1940

BY MARY A. RENDA

The U.S. invasion of Haiti in July 1915 marked the start of a military occupation that lasted for nineteen years–and fed an American fascination with Haiti that flourished even longer. Exploring the cultural dimensions of U.S. contact with Haiti during the occupation and its aftermath, Mary Renda shows that what Americans thought and wrote about Haiti during those years contributed in crucial and unexpected ways to an emerging culture of U.S. imperialism.

THE DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES WITH HAITI, 1776-1981

BY RAYFORD W. LOGAN

The relations of the United States with Haiti have been different from American relations with any other nation; they have been vital and at times even dramatic. They climaxed in 1891 when the United States failed to make Haiti lease her Mole St. Nicolas. This failure constitutes an amazing episode in American diplomatic hostory. Recounting the story of Haiti’s struggle for independence, the book discusses her diplomatic relations with the United States.

Originally published in 1941.

THE HAITIANS: A DECOLONIAL HISTORY

BY JEAN CASIMIR

In this sweeping history, leading Haitian intellectual Jean Casimir argues that the story of Haiti should not begin with the usual image of Saint-Domingue as the richest colony of the eighteenth century. Rather, it begins with a reconstruction of how individuals from Africa, in the midst of the golden age of imperialism, created a sovereign society based on political imagination and a radical rejection of the colonial order, persisting even through the U.S. occupation in 1915.

LIBERTY, FRATERNITY, EXILE: HAITI AND JAMAICA AFTER EMANCIPATION

BY MATTHEW J. SMITH

In this moving microhistory of nineteenth-century Haiti and Jamaica, Matthew J. Smith details the intimate connections that illuminate the conjoined histories of both places after slavery. The frequent movement of people between Haiti and Jamaica in the decades following emancipation in the British Caribbean brought the countries into closer contact and influenced discourse about the postemancipation future of the region. In the stories and genealogies of exiles and politicians, abolitionists and diplomats, laborers and merchants–and mothers, fathers, and children–Smith recognizes the significance of nineteenth-century Haiti to regional development.

A COLONY OF CITIZENS: REVOLUTION AND SLAVE EMANCIPATION IN THE FRENCH CARIBBEAN, 1787-1804

BY LAURENT DUBOIS

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

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.

HAITIAN CONNECTIONS IN THE ATLANTIC WORLD: RECOGNITION AFTER REVOLUTION

BY JULIA GAFFIELD

On January 1, 1804, Haiti shocked the world by declaring independence. Historians have long portrayed Haiti’s postrevolutionary period as one during which the international community rejected Haiti’s Declaration of Independence and adopted a policy of isolation designed to contain the impact of the world’s only successful slave revolution. Julia Gaffield, however, anchors a fresh vision of Haiti’s first tentative years of independence to its relationships with other nations and empires and reveals the surprising limits of the country’s supposed isolation.

AN ISLANDWIDE STRUGGLE FOR FREEDOM: REVOLUTION, EMANCIPATION, REENSLAVEMENT IN HISPANIOLA, 1789-1809

BY GRAHAM T. NESSLER

Reinterpreting the Haitian Revolution as both an islandwide and a circum-Caribbean phenomenon, Graham Nessler examines the intertwined histories of Saint-Domingue, the French colony that became Haiti, and Santo Domingo, the Spanish colony that became the Dominican Republic. Tracing conflicts over the terms and boundaries of territory, liberty, and citizenship that transpired in the two colonies that shared one island, Nessler argues that the territories’ borders and governance were often unclear and mutually influential during a tumultuous period that witnessed emancipation in Saint-Domingue and reenslavement in Santo Domingo.