Like others, maybe at best I had heard about the Haitian Revolution in the past, but not in enough detail to fully recall it. It was a landmark and unique event that is startlingly absent in public knowledge. I understand there are many other examples of forgotten history because a person can only remember so much, but I wish I knew more about the significance and outcomes of painful past events. The silence surrounding the Haitian Revolution has done us a disservice, but when we separate it from the French Revolution and focus on just the Haitian Revolution, we fill in an important piece in the history of freedom and democracy. There are lessons that can be learned from both the good and bad aspects of the Haitian Revolution.
Memory is one simple way of honoring those who lost lives for a cause. A revolution changes a place, a country, and the world. And for maximum effect, any positive or negative change must be remembered, even if its meaning changes over time. Maybe at points certain ideas or past struggles lose relevance in the public mind, and those are instead held in books and by scholars, but in the future, almost anything could become relevant again. And one of our greatest insights into the future–maybe the only one–is the past, and often we are still surprised by both human future and past.
Like our revolutions themed lecture on monuments by Jeffrey Schnapp from the week before, the past can often be reframed, lost, or destroyed, even if at one time it was seemingly immortalized in stone. As is the saying: Forgetting the past, while not in all cases, may lead to similar mistakes in the future. This can be from something as minute as a mistake on an exam all the way up to a war, or revolutionary struggle for rights. Even very recent and very clear pertinent things sometimes must be reiterated, especially if false notions exist. Like how China recently reminded politicians in the United States that climate change is not an invented hoax, and that furthermore, it was republicans over 30 years ago who began climate negotiations. Now the same party denies its existence. Possibly the only thing worse than forgetting hard lessons learned in the past is actively “forgetting” them by creating misinformation to serve current interests. In the case of the Haitian Revolution, it seems to have been overshadowed or omitted in history books, despite how clearly unique it is from the American and French Revolutions. Haiti was fighting for freedom for all and to abolish slavery, things the US would not fight for or accomplish until many years later. Possibly governments around the time selectively “forgot” and misinformed, or didn’t inform to prevent uprisings against slavery in their countries. This is another example of the danger in covering up world history and only learning and considering one perspective of any historical event. The Haitian Revolution was far ahead of its time, and its recognition is far behind. Hopefully, we continue to gain new perspectives and learn more about forgotten events.