The Haitian Revolution and the Origins of Modern Democracy was presented by Jeremy D. Popkin is the William T. Bryan Chair of History at the University of Kentucky. He focused on the years 1776, 1789, 1804. The events he described are over two hundred years ago yet the term “Haitian Revolution” has been used only in the past few decades. From the Haitian revolution we learn that how significant the Haitian Revolution is and how we consider revolutions when comparing it to American and French revolutions. What truly stood out to me throughout the lecture was Bryan’s ability to relate the events discussed to today’s classrooms.
The talk called The Unfinished Business of the Darwinian Revolution by Professor Judy Stone was very different from the previous Darwinian talk. While Janet Browne from Harvard University spoke about how revolutionary should Darwin be considered, Professor Stone focused more on the evolution theory itself. Stone, I believe attempts to ground us with what Darwin’s evolution theory was really about and where we should be today. More specifically, Stone’s talk engrains in us Darwin’s branching tree diagram and how this was misinterpreted and wrongly encouraged typological thinking when we should have a more realistic, non binary view of evolution. Continue reading
Jeremy Popkin’s talk “Haitian Revolution and the Origins of Modern Democracy” discussed the many revolutions Haiti underwent (1776, 1789, and 1804) to establish itself as a democracy. Popkin provided insight into how the Haitian Revolution is often overlooked, forgotten, and/or disregarded. However, as unique as the Haitian Revolution was for becoming the first African-American run democracy in the New World, there may be legitimate reasons for historians to overlook the revolution.
What has the Haitian Revolution resulted in? Was it truly successful? Historians choose to delve into significant historical events. Why? Significant events, such as the American revolution, are more apt to influence subsequent historical occurrences. An event like the Haitian Revolution, although having potential to empower freed African-Americans and former slaves, did not change the world sphere. Rather, the event passed by. Some people may point to racial injustices, I would point to how the Haitians’ independence didn’t involve high stake powers and was separated from the, at the time, main-stream world.
This is my personal reflection regarding the Haitian Revolution. Although many historians will continually point to racial injustices, I would argue it would be worthwhile for them to at least consider this point of view, and at least bring it up, or counter it, when calling for people to reconsider overlooked historical events.
Some of the most significant political revolutions took place in the late 18th and early 19th Century. The American Revolution in 1776 and the French Revolution in 1789, which gave birth to democracy and outlined the idea of power amongst the common people. But Wait. We are still missing one major event. Its the Haiti Revolution, which took place in 1804. This event saw the rise of power of slaves to overthrow the colonial French rule and establish an independent empire of Haiti. If you probably never heard about the ‘Haiti Revolution’ until now, there is no need to be worried. You are not alone. Time and time again it has been overlooked by the western historians, simply because it was caused by the blacks.
Jeremy D. Popkin, in his lecture ‘New Perspectives on the Haitian Revolution’ discussed in detail about the Haiti Revolution, which took place in the ‘age of revolutions’. Amongst many things he discussed as to why Haiti Revolution is not talked about much. Possibly because, being caused by blacks, historians did not simply consider it a revolution. Maybe, for them, it was more like a black uprising. this also talks a lot about how racism in general has evolved over the years. By establishing an independent empire of Haiti, the black slaves had strived for liberty and independence. Yet they were not provided the glory of the American and the French revolution.
It is important that whole of mankind remembers the Haiti Revolution. For it is events like this which inspire people, encourage them to take on the world and bring about a change, a revolution.
In Jeffrey Schnapps’ talk about developing the BZ ’18-’45 monument in Bolzano, Italy, Schnapps discusses the story of transforming an uncomfortable, yet important, story into one generations can learn from and embrace. Although Schnapps’ work occurred in a small town in northern Italy, his work provides insight into an ongoing issues across the world: How do we deal with our uncomfortable past? Schnapps, although without resistance, took an important representation of a town’s history that was once avoided and transformed it into something with significant purpose. This story is an important one to listen to. Across the world, there are aspects of every country’s past that are looked down upon, or even forgotten, and learning how to handle and display them properly is needed.
Responding in this manner, of preserving uncomfortable artifacts, can be revolutionary in itself, or foster subsequent movements for how we view our past. One such example is the fight over Civil War monuments and graves, namely on the side of the Confederacy. Despite the attack on these artifacts, many local historians gathered and strived, much like Schnapps, to restructure them in a manner that made them educational. Although this movement across the American south remained hidden from the media, a small, but important revolution, occurred and resulted in the preservation, and updating of, important artifacts.
These experiences teach us the importance of being uncomfortable, and learning from history. Schnapps is unique from other movements as he made his exhibit technologically advanced, interactive, and accessible to many. Historians, artists, architects, and more can learn from his work, and ideally apply it to many communities.
The lack of inclusion in history for American and European curriculum is not just a coincidence but a deliberate act. Tonight’s lecture not only touched on the ways we as American not only forget the past but complete avoid parts of our past. This problem of holding a very eurocentric view of history is not a thing of recent times or even of past times, it has always and will continue to always be a problem until we as Americans confront the issue and demand more.
The Haitian Revolution of 1791, a revolution that lasted twelve years, can and should be considered the first fight for total equality and anti-colonialism in the world. Over one hundred and fifty years before the anti-colonial era following World War II, I would argue Haiti was the first country to truly adhere to and attempt to obtain the ideals of liberty and equality. Unlike the United States and France who promoted ideals of liberty and equality, Haiti was a slave insurrection that attempted to implement these ideas once it gained its independence, giving equal status to its citizens years before either states even abolished slavery.
With that said, why do we as a nation seem to brush this revolution off as some sort of blip in the historical timeline? Professor Popkin notes that in just a common interest sense, most people who search the event are African American and that most white people ignore or are simply not interested. Whether this is rooted in some inherently racial ideas, doubtful, but I would argue that this lack of interest stems from the notion of history ingrained in our heads from childhood that the only type of history that matters is that which concerns white lives and bodies. You would be hard pressed to learn about the wonders of Native American cultures and wars, African contributions to thought in our conception of government, and surely not the contributions of people of color to the technological and philosophical advancement of Europe during the enlightenment- it just does not happen.
In this white washing, Professor Popkin is trying to create a new narrative. One that includes the Haitian Revolution as one that is apart of the lineage of democratic ideals and the foundation of the dissemination of democratic principles throughout both the western world and easter world, from the Caribbean and France all the way to Southeast Asia. Further it also contributed to the ways both the French and Americans considered the issue of race and the notion of inferiority as the Haitian Revolution both dispelled the myth of inferiority and made leaders think heavily on the animosities created by racial divides and possibility of rebellion.
The lecture tonight touched on the very important question and idea about history. In the United States, we learn a very little selection of history of the world. We are not taught the vast amount of history around the world. Most prominently the history of countries that are outside of Europe seems to rarely be taught in the United States. Today’s lecture only highlighted how bad the problem is still today. While only a senior at Colby, I strongly believe that high school education could not have changed that much since my time.
In my four years of high school I took three types of history classes. The first was western civilization. This centered around the idea of the European development from the Greeks all the way to modern Europe as it is today. A very interesting class, but it was my only type of foreign history class in my three years of high school. Going to a private school in Vermont I can not say if this normal for most public schools to not experience more foreign history. My next two classes were as follows, an intense learning of US history from 1600s to early 20th century followed by a more intense US foreign policy from 1880s through present day. While the two US history classes did touch upon some foreign countries the learning of foreign history outside of Europe did not happen. In the second class we mostly learned about US government interactions with countries. Oddly enough nothing was mentioned about the US governments involvement in Haiti for retributions on loans given out.
I do not know why the problem is so bad. I believe that there could be two different reasons for this explanation. The first is that trying to learn about so many countries would be impossible. I believe this to be very true. It would be very hard to be taught about all the areas of the world. But how is it decided that Western Civilization or mostly European history is considered a worthy time to study. European history is important to the United States because of the connection from how the United States was started. There is a connection back to Europe. However not trying to include the rest of the world results in a lack of knowledge that was shown tonight from people’s shock about the age of revolution. How intertwined in that age is a small island being able to overthrow a large French government is not talked about. Along with this very often the French Revolution is talked about in some way. The reading of a Tale of Two Cities explores what is going on during the French Revolution and is commonly read for US high school Americans.
What should be taught to students? It is not a straight forward answer. Obviously, the history of the area that they are from should be taught. Along with that the where the country they are from was founded from. Beyond that trying to learn history is not straight forward. Even college professors specialize within an area.
Professor Aaron Hanlon’s talk “Revolutions in Data, Big and Little,” made me consider the digital aspects of future history. Professor Hanlon talked through the history of data, from the genesis of the word through the scientific revolution into modern times. The more traditional forms of data, such as Robert Hooke’s drawing of the flea, were translations of observations into visual mediums that others could observe without firsthand experience. Today historians can look back on the pen and paper records that past data collectors have left. However, in today’s world, the bulk of data being produced today, including the n-grams that Professor Hanlon showcased, are digital. With the plethora of data available today, how will future historians be able to easily categorize the information of this age? Continue reading
As much of the theme of this cycle focuses on revolutions, one of the most powerful takeaways for me was the prejudice and the influence of colonialism and power structures on the ability to produce history, as well as the implications of that.
The 1815 eruption of Tambora was quite possibly one of the most powerful and devastating natural disasters in modern history. The surrounding discussion over the publishing of the history of the event is fairly non-existent for the magnitude of the event that completely and totally affected much of the world. It is a particularly pertinent thought in the light of this insane election cycle, where the republican candidate has often criticized the democratic candidates for referring to climate change as a great threat to global security. One of the reasons that I have chosen Syria as the region whose weather I would like to study is because of the greater macro effects of weather on the region, including starvation, insecurity, and the rise of terrorist groups and the possible link between those and positive sentiment for these groups. This was evident in the way in which the climate change dramatically affected the poor population in the discussion of the journals of Mary Shelley. Here we say the dire consequences of extreme climate change, the type of which I very much hope will not become evident in the next several lifetimes. The fear and xenophobia shown by populations of people is evident in today’s Syria, which has a large population of suffering sick and starving people due in part to the climate of Syria which limits agriculture.
I think that in making light of the history that has been written, a certain Donald Trump has mobilized a strategy that is eerily similar to this time period. While the publishing of information and the continued disuse of the facts are severely different, the are also interconnected in they both are able to manipulate the way in which people view the current and the future. There is a mode of thinking to influence this outcome, to agency to edit, prohibit, or change the lenses through which people view history. There is a significant discussion in history classes around which people view history, and who gets to produce it. We read textbooks, which are supposed to give us an objective and factual scope of histories, but those are pre-determined to be relevant and factual by those who control what should be decided to be so.
On a more practical note, I wonder what would happen if a Tambora like event happened today, where a natural disaster so drastically affect more than one Western region. I make this distinction because it would influence those with money and power, but with limited geographical resources. How would established nations cooperate, if they did cooperate, to save lives and ration resources? It is important to think about how Globalization, which I classify 100% to be a revolution, and its related inconnectuivity, would dramatically change if nations had to compete within non financial markets to survive.
With Professor Wood’s lecture his explanation of how people look at history was out of the ordinary. Normally people will look at the events that happened and only take into account the actions that the people have made. History neglects to look at the weather that had an impact on the actions that were going on. In modern times we can see how weather plays a huge role in the way that the outcomes of events. My particular favorite interest in life is sports. Very few times do people want to attribute the weather is causing an outcome.
The most obvious memory from my life that was changed by weather was a ski race. In the morning about six inches of snow fell along with very cold temperatures. The athletes had to push snow off of the course for nearly an hour and as the first group, the best men in the field raced while it stayed cold and cloudy. After about an hour the weather drastically changed, the sun came out the temperature began to rise causing the snow to melt. But it was partly cloudy and the clouds would come back in after about fifth teen minutes of sunshine causing the softening snow to harden to ice. As the race wore on this happened many times. Around bib 80 the cycle was continuing and a young man, who had no shown no signs of quickness was able to win the race. In ski racing racers start off their rank and on average the winner has a start order less than 15 so this result was near impossible. As the lodge watched the run and time be posted many questioned how such a result could be possible. Some even speculated that the time most be wrong and it will be corrected shortly. Very few could look at the science behind the result, that the weather had such a role in causing such a major change in history.
While my personal case of weather changing the course of history is very small, but it highlights how weather can cause such a major change. Throughout history much more major events have been effected by weather events. Napoleon deciding to enter into Russia during the winter, he was unable to calculate how his army might not be able to fight while under such different conditions. The lack of thought for how the weather will have an impact on the course of events seems the problem. In the lecture the highlighting of weather and its effect on history showed this very well.