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Haiti's Paper War: Post-Independence Writing and the Making of the Republic (1804–1954)

America and the Long Nineteenth Century Series, NYU Press (2020)

Picking up where most historians conclude, Haiti's Paper War explores the critical internal challenge to Haiti’s post-independence sovereignty: a civil war between monarchy and republic. What transpired was a war of swords and of pens, waged in newspapers and periodicals, in literature, broadsheets, and fliers. In its analysis of Haitian writing that followed independence, the book composes a new literary history of Haiti, that challenges our interpretations of both freedom struggles and the postcolonial. By examining internal dissent during the revolution, Haiti's Paper War reveals that the very concept of freedom was itself hotly contested in the public sphere, and it was this inherent tension that became the central battleground for the guerre de plume—the paper war—that vied to shape public sentiment and the very idea of Haiti.

The book's reading of post-independence Haitian writing reveals key insights into the nature of literature, its relation to freedom and politics, and how fraught and politically loaded the concepts of “literature” and “civilization” really are. The competing ideas of liberté, writing, and civilization at work within postcolonial Haiti have consequences for the way we think about Haiti’s role—as an idea and a discursive interlocutor—in the elaboration of black radicalism and black Atlantic, anticolonial, and decolonial thought. In so doing, Haiti's Paper War reorders our previously homogeneous view of Haiti, teasing out warring conceptions of the new nation that continued to play out deep into the twentieth century.

Haiti for the Haitians

co-editing volume and translation with Brandon Byrd and Nathan Dize (under contract, Liverpool University Press)

Haiti for the Haitians is the first major English translation of Louis-Joseph Janvier, one of the foremost Haitian intellectuals and diplomats of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and an interdisciplinary collection of critical reflections on Janvier and black intellectual history, literature and politics in post-independence Haiti, and translation in post-colonial and Haitian studies. Its purpose is twofold. First, the book gives anglophone scholars and students unprecedented access to and analysis of Janvier. In doing so, it also advances our understanding of the broader intellectual, political, and literary history of Haiti, the African Diaspora, and the Atlantic World.

Caribbean Fascism: Antiliberalism and Integralism in the Twentieth Century (in progress)

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I am currently a 2020 ACLS Fellow working on a new project on Caribbean Fascism. This research focuses on the prominence and extent of fascism in the 20th-century Caribbean. Most scholarship on the region has focused on Marxist and radical leftist thought to the exclusion of substantive analyses of the antiliberal forces of the far right. Scaled to the multilingual, multinational, and multiracial space of the Caribbean, the project explores the literature, politics, and culture of antiliberalism and integralism in the Caribbean. The project’s interdisciplinary literary-historical methodology and source base emphasize the essential value of locally-produced print sources. In so doing, it makes a case for moving beyond a study of “fascism in the Caribbean,” which remains locked in a European center-Caribbean periphery “imitative” mode, toward an accounting of locally-bounded, homegrown Caribbean fascism. The legacy of 20th-century Caribbean fascism that the project uncovers has important consequences for our understanding of the past, and for making sense of the resurgence of antiliberal, integralist nationalism in the region today.

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digital humanities

Online Index and Lab for the Revue de la Société Haïtienne d’Histoire, de Géographie et de Géologie

The RSHHGG Lab is an interactive online index of over 90 years of the Revue de la Société Haïtienne d’Histoire, de Géographie et de Géologie, the official publication of Haiti’s oldest intellectual society that is still active today. By indexing the contents of the journal, the site aims to increase the impact of this important publication by facilitating the work of scholars of Haiti in the US, Haiti, and beyond. It is our sincere hope that this effort will foster collaboration and new partnerships by connecting scholars of Haiti from all levels and locales.

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articles, book chapters

 “Camelots du roi ou rouges: The Polarization of Early Twentieth-Century Haitian Periodicals,” 

in Contemporary French Civilization 45.1 (2020), 47–69

This article explores the radicalization of early twentieth-century Haitian periodicals. While the importance of Marxist and radical socialist thought in early twentieth-century Haiti has been the focus of much scholarly attention, the presence of far-right nationalism has yet to receive its due. Maurrassisme, or integral nationalism, is one of the most important French-language ideologies of the early twentieth century – one that scholars often overlook at the expense of fully appreciating its power and reach during the period. Haitian intellectuals’ engagement with integral nationalism was part of a wider global engagement with the ideas of Maurras and Action Française in the interwar period. In the case of Haiti, the integral nationalism put forth in Maurrassisme resonated with radicals in the interwar period as they reflected on the failures of the liberal democratic order that resulted from their own revolution in 1804. In fact, Haitians were self-professed adherents of Action Française and its ideology as it related to their own interwar Haitian context. Through a close reading of Haitian periodicals from the period, I argue integral nationalism and fascism were the dominant radical ideologies of the 1930s, more widespread than communism among elite intellectuals and, crucially, with near-unfettered access to the print public sphere.

“Cross-Boundary Digital Collaboration as Scholarly and  Institutional Experimentation: Amplifying the Impact of Caribbean Periodicals,”

with Laura Wrubel, and Watson Denis in archipelagos 4 (2020)

This essay analyzes the role that experimental work played in the multi-institutional, cross-boundary collaborative construction of the RSHHGG Lab, an interactive online index of Haiti’s preeminent social science journal, the Revue de la Société haïtienne d’histoire, de géographie et de géologie. Here, the authors understand experimentation to be a mindset, an attitude of “try it and see what happens” through iterative small risks and an openness to involving others and changing direction. This approach draws on the spirit of collaboration, experimentation, and sharing that informs the LC Labs initiative at the Library of Congress, and the revue (magazine-journal) as a print space of exchange, confrontation, and collective creation. Following recent reflections on information maintenance and care ethics, the authors agree that infrastructures of information maintenance are often invisible and institutionally siloed and tend to reproduce structures of oppression and silencing. They aim here to highlight the institutional and infrastructural experimentation and labor necessary to create what is, essentially, a project of information management: making a key repository of knowledge usable, discoverable and accessible. The authors contend that experimental work was central to successfully working within—and also challenging—extant infrastructures of information maintenance in order to achieve an independent, sustainable project with room to grow and transform. In attending to the various processes of experimentation that underwrote the RSHHGG Lab, the authors hope to demonstrate the fruitfulness of cross-boundary collaborative projects and, ultimately, to advocate for more infrastructures of experimentation in many forms: research leave, labs, residencies, and further creative approaches to blurring the boundaries of labor.

“Beyond Mentions: New Approaches to Comparative Studies of Haiti,”

review essay, in Early American Literature 53.3 (2018), 961–975

This essay considers three recent studies of the Haitian Revolution in early America in order to chart the possibilities and limitations of analyzing Haiti in a comparative context. While the works under consideration here share an interest in how the Haitian Revolution was narrated from different viewpoints, each confronts the challenges inherent in the “use” of Haiti in different ways. The essay argues that while the Atlantic turn has rightly established Saint-Domingue–Haiti’s centrality to the Age of Revolution, it has nevertheless still relied upon a reductive or simplified version of Haiti and its revolution to make visible its Atlantic interconnections. As a result, the essay contends that comparative studies of Haiti, particularly in Anglophone North Atlantic scholarship, need new approaches to engage the internal complexities of Haiti’s history, namely a recognition of Haiti’s fundamental plurality and a greater emphasis on Haitian historiography produced from within Haiti. 

“The Myths of the Haitian Republic”

in Remembering Early-Modern Revolutions, Edward Vallance, ed. (London: Routledge, 2018), 145–157.

This chapter explores what I have termed the ‘myth of the Haitian republic’: the disconnect between the idea of a liberal democratic republic and its practical instantiation in Haiti, but also the stories of the Haitian Revolution and civil war that partisans of the republic told to narrate its inevitability after the unification of the Haitian republic in 1820. After the fall of the northern monarchy and the end of nearly 15 years of civil war, historians, intellectuals, and statesmen wrote the foundational national myths of the republic in poems, literary and political journals, travel narratives, geographies, and histories. These texts narrated the inevitability of the republic by casting Dessalines’s empire and Christophe’s kingdom as perversions or aberrations of the inexorable march toward civilization and liberal republicanism. A first section considers the forging of the national republican myth in the work of Beaubrun Ardouin, considered at the time the foremost historian of the post-1820 republic. A second section considers Louis Joseph Janvier’a later revisionist history of Ardouin’s work. By illuminating the early republican mythologizing of Haiti’s revolutionary past, Janvier reveals how the post-independence republic failed to live up to the republican ideals of freedom and democracy that it proclaimed, particularly as it concerned Haiti’s majority group: the peasantry.

“La Primera Guerra Mundial y el ascenso del Nacionalismo cultural en Haití,”

in María Inés Tato and Olivier Compagnon, eds., La Gran Guerra en América Latina. Una historia connectada (Mexico: CEMCA, UNAM and Colegio de México, 2018), 363–378.

The First World War figures only parenthetically in Haitian historiography, eclipsed by accounts and analyses of the United States Occupation of Haiti, which lasted from 1915-1934. Consequently, historians interpret the emergence of cultural nationalism in the 1920s primarily as a product of the Occupation—a reactionary cultural movement responding the threat of US neo-imperialism. By considering the first decades of the 20th century beyond the scope of the Occupation and taking into account the geopolitical and geo-cultural transformations that accompanied the First World War, we can better grasp the larger context of Haiti’s literary and cultural efflorescence of the 1920s, the scope of which was unmatched in the nation’s history. This chapter offers a narrative of the First World War in Haiti, exploring the lead-up to the war, the experience of war itself on the front and at home, and the aftermath of war as Haiti joined the League of Nations as one of its founding members. In a second part, it considers the emergence of cultural nationalism in the mid-1920s as it relates to this larger context, and posits the ways in which the war may have contributed to the emergence of the indigénisme cultural nationalist movement.

The Haitian Literary Magazine in Francophone Postcolonial Literary and Cultural Production

in French Cultural Studies for the Twenty-First Century

This chapter establishes the literary magazine as a crucial source for understanding postcolonial literary and cultural production in Haiti. The form of the literary magazine, the material conditions of its production, and its marginal status in relation to the international literary field, I argue, created a space for the articulation of a decentered cultural nationalist ideology that nevertheless remained engaged with new horizons of world literature beyond Haiti’s borders. The magazine allows us to map Haiti’s evolving attitudes toward the literary and cultural production of the former metropole and toward the emerging global literary field of the early twentieth century.

in French Studies 70.1

In a revisionist reading of the Haitian peasant novel, this article addresses the short shrift given to Haiti's regionalism in scholarship, a lacuna that social geographer Georges Anglade attributes to ‘les effets d'occultation propre à la structure dominante centralisée’. Contrary to Port-au-Prince-centric renderings of Haitian literary history, which locate the elaboration of the modern peasant novel in the elite (read: Port-au-Princean) intelligentsia's quest for a more authentic national identity, I show that the modern peasant novel emerged in the pages of the northern literary magazine Stella (Cap-Haïtien, 1926–30) out of a primarily regional context. Through a close reading of several short and virtually unstudied récits paysans published in Stella, I argue that northern writers deployed the peasant novel genre as a regional response to the process of centralization and regional ‘occultation’ by the centralized nation-state apparatus. In particular, I examine how the lived experience of dramatic demographic and economic decline in the north informed the specific contours of this new literary expression.

in Francosphères 4.1

This article recasts the Revue indigène as an important manifestation of Haitian cultural nationalism that is often conflated with subsequent movements that co-opted the review’s heritage in order to legitimize their nationalist projects. My investigation focuses primarily on the contributions of Émile Roumer, the review’s director, who worked to conceptualize a Haitian cultural nationalism based on an early twentieth-century notion of cosmopolitan patriotism. I devote particular attention to Valery Larbaud, the French poet, critic, and translator, who took great interest in the Revue indigène poets, and whose notion of cosmopolitisme was central to the development of Roumer’s cultural nationalist ideas.

“Gérard de Catalogne, passeur transatlantique du maurrassisme entre Haïti et la France”

published in Olivier Dard, ed., Doctrinaires, vulgarisateurs et passeurs des droites radicales au XXe siècle (Europe-Amériques). Bern: Peter Lang, 2012, pp. 233-254.

If the historical study of Maurrassisme in the Americas has already been introduced, an inquiry into the particular case of Haiti, a country which occupies a marginal space in the field, still remains to be considered.  This article offers a few starting points by reconstructing the itinerary of a transatlantic passeur between Haiti and France: Gérard de Catalogne.  Presently relegated to a few passing references in the history of the Jeune Droite of the 1930s, his intellectual journey warrants a more in-depth study.  A Frenchman born in Cap-Haitien at the beginning of the 20th century, Catalogne plays an important role in the transatlantic transference of French nationalist thought by establishing himself as a cultural and political intermediary for the Haitian intellectual elite.  Focusing primarily on printed matter, in particular the various newspapers to which Catalogne contributed, this article proposes a coherent and linear account of Catalogne’s intellectual trajectory, from the ranks of the Action française to the heights of the Haitian press. 

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