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Dessalines, Champs de Mars

CLAS postdoctoral research fellow Dr Kate Hodgson has just returned from a two-week visit to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she carried out archival research in one of the most significant research collections relating to nineteenth-century Caribbean history, the St Louis de Gonzague library and archives. During her stay in Haiti, she presented her most recent work to students and staff of the Faculty of Ethnology at the State University of Haiti (UEH), and attended a study day at the Doctoral School of UEH on the Haitian Revolution and the fortification of Haiti against the possibility of French reinvasion in the early days of national independence.

Dr Hodgson says: “Since my trip to Port-au-Prince last February, the city has changed a lot. Post-earthquake demolition and re-construction work is ongoing; the earthquake survivors’ camp on the Champ de Mars is gone, as are the ruins of the National Palace. This year I had the chance to visit the archives, where I found some interesting additional material for the book on Haitian revolutionary narratives that I am in the process of writing, as well as some background information that will help me as I plan my new project.

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Statue of Toussaint Louverture, leader of the Haitian Revolution

Kate Hodgson’s most recent research focuses on the key role played by Haitian popular music after independence in 1804 in building a national identity that was anti-imperialist and anti-slavery in character. Over the summer, she found some lost song lyrics in the archives in Paris that date back to the 1850s. During this period, the reign of the Haitian Emperor Faustin Soulouque was threatened by the aggressive gunboat diplomacy of the French. With French warships in the harbour of Port-au-Prince poised to bombard the city unless Haiti paid the next instalment on the national debt within 24 hours, Soulouque had to make a decision. Meanwhile, the people in the streets of Port-au-Prince were singing their message of defiance against the French navy, alongside a barbed critique of the financial management of their country by Soulouque in the run up to the crisis.

Here are the words of their song, White Frenchmen, translated from Haitian Creole:

White Frenchmen are asking for money

Where will I get it? Where will I get it?

We will give them guns,

We will give them cannons,

We will give them bullets!

Where will I get them?

Set to a military tune, preserved in the Paris archives alongside the lyrics, this historically significant song has been recorded on trumpet by Jessica Riches, an undergraduate student in the Department of Music at the University of Liverpool. The recording was played to students and staff of the Faculty of Ethnology in Port-au-Prince.  Additionally, an article discussing Dr Hodgson’s research was recently published in the Haitian national newspaper, Le Nouvelliste. Dr Hodgson is hoping to return to Port-au-Prince later this year to continue her research into the political significance of music in nineteenth-century Haiti.

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