Silencing the Past

As much as Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past advances ideas concerning history and historiography, I could not be more stirred by Trouillot’s meditations on present-day Haiti. One idea I find especially provocative in this work is taken up only briefly:

“With time, the silencing of the revolution was strengthened by the fate of Haiti itself. Ostracized for the better part of the nineteenth century, the country deteriorated both economically and politically – in part as a result of this ostracism. As Haiti declined, the reality of the revolution seemed increasingly distant, an improbability which took place in an awkward past and for which no one had a rational explanation.” (98)

Trouillot adds a short end-note after the second sentence, in which he simply references another one of his works Haiti: State Against Nation. The dynamics between past and present that Trouillot mentions makes what he is discussing more relevant and more tangible. Elsewhere, Trouillot discusses the way revolutions and dissent in the Caribbean during the 18th and 19th Century was viewed as a replication or result of European revolutions/revolutionary ideas. I found this intriguing on a personal level; I had done quite a bit of research on revolts in French colonies around the time of the French Revolution for a research paper last year, and always treated them as a subsidiary of the Revolution in Europe. Haiti is a state that the “developed world” has more or less left behind. I can’t help but think that if we were taught more about the revolution in Haiti (and as a Haitian revolution, not a European-influenced one) we would pay more attention to a country that is much closer to us then Europe. Of course, the idea of a white, middle class male “paying attention” to Haiti has its own bundles of problems, but I suppose those are things to be worked out in time.

All this to say, it is incredibly refreshing to read an author who is outside of the “Western” (I use that term reluctantly as a simple reference point, as Trouillot does spend some time discussing it) tradition. Silencing the Past has sparked a curiosity in me when it comes to Haitian and Caribbean history.

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