I remember during my freshman year of high school our history class was called “Global Studies” and the class focused on forgotten or often neglected history. One of the first topics we studied was the Haitian Revolution and I remember being very interested in it. Hearing Professor Jeremy Popkin’s talk brought me back to freshman year of high school learning about important historical figures like Toussaint Louverture. Like other history in that class, the Haitian Revolution is usually pushed to the side in favor of the American Revolution and the French Revolution even though all of these revolutions took place in the same twenty year span. The American Revolution occurred first and in part inspired the Haitian and French Revolutions. The French Revolution, however became the spark for the Haitian Revolution after the French revolutionaries declared that all men be free and equal and when word spread to Haiti, a French colony, the African slaves of the island agreed and decided to rise up. The Haitian Revolution was the first and only slave uprising that led to the establishment of a free state without slavery and ruled by non-whites and former slaves. This feat needs to be recognized more in today’s society as one of the marquee revolutions in history.
The American and French Revolutions are praised as marking the beginning of the end of many absolute monarchies and ushering in liberal democracies and republics. However, the American Revolution did not abolish slavery and even though the French Revolution did, Napoleon Bonaparte brought it back when he rose to power. When the word “revolution” is brought up in a historical context, these are the first two revolutions that come to mind. The Haitian Revolution is less recognized in today’s society and in history, even though it did more by establishing a free state AND truly creating a free society for all men (women is a different story unfortunately) by abolishing slavery. What does this say about our society? At a liberal arts school, the first inclination is to blame it on inherent and institutionalized racism throughout our society. And do not get me wrong, I consider myself liberal and I believe there is institutionalized racism in our world. However, I find it difficult to put all the blame for societal negligence of the Haitian Revolution on racism. I believe it has a role given that the most studied history has been about white men.
Instead of blaming racism for ignoring the Haitian Revolution, I think it is important to follow Professor Popkin’s model and emphasize the Haitian Revolution as being as important as it needs to be when discussing historical revolutions. By being proactive and getting the word out instead of blaming these theoretical, wide-ranging entities like “society”, the Haitian Revolution will have a better chance of getting the historical credit it deserves. Popkin emphasized that the scholarship of the Haitian Revolution has blown up in recent years, which is an avenue of recognition that can place it in its appropriate place in world history.