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Along with Dr Tim Lockley (University of Warwick) and Dr Karen Salt (University of Aberdeen), Dr Kate Hodgson recently spoke on BBC Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’ programme hosted by Lord Melvyn Bragg. The subject of discussion was the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), a notoriously “silenced” part of world history as the only slave revolt ever to achieve the permanent overthrow of the white planter class and the establishment of a new state by former slaves (Trouillot, 1995). The rich colony of Saint Domingue, with a population of half a million enslaved Africans, was already in turmoil in 1791 due to the impact of events in France when a massive slave-organized revolution broke out that turned Saint Domingue upside down, forced the French to concede the universal abolition of slavery (1794) and, after an attempt by Napoleon Bonaparte to re-establish colonial slavery in 1802, eventually drove the French out of the newly re-named Haiti for good.

Toussaint

Monument to Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture in Bordeaux (photograph by Kate Hodgson)

The programme was necessarily a fast-paced 45 minute tour through a very complicated bit of history involving not only the French planters, commissioners and armed forces but also the British and Spanish armies in Saint Domingue, and multiple conflicts including a fiercely-waged civil war between the rival leaders of the revolution. Dr Hodgson said,

“I wish we’d had time to talk more about what happened after Haitian independence was declared in 1804. The ownership of the land vacated by French planters fleeing the revolution and the problem of post-slavery agricultural labour became major political issues in nineteenth-century Haiti with serious ongoing implications. Independent Haiti also had to deal with being economically and politically quarantined by the rest of the Americas due to fears that its slave revolution would spread. But maybe this is a subject for another episode of the programme! Our lively post-broadcast discussions continued over tea and pastries in the studio (available as a ‘bonus’ on the podcast) – but we had to vacate the premises in time for Woman’s Hour!”

Dr Hodgson is currently working on a British Academy-funded project entitled Haiti and the International Politics of Anti-Slavery. The project examines Haiti’s continued opposition to slavery and the slave trade after 1804 in a global context which had normalized both. Engaging with the international politics of anti-slavery became a way for Haiti to promote its national interests abroad and strengthen its own post-colonial identity, as Dr Hodgson’s research shows. The first output of this new project appeared in 2014: ‘Internal Harmony, Peace to the Outside World: Imagining Community in Nineteenth-Century Haiti’ in Paragraph (37:2). Dr Hodgson also has an edited collection forthcoming with Liverpool University Press entitled At the Limits of Memory: Legacies of Slavery in the Francophone World (2015).

The podcast of the programme, along with relevant books and websites for anyone wanting to learn more about the Haitian revolution can be found here

Dr Hodgson will also be teaching in semester 2 on the subject of representations of the Haitian revolution in the final year comparative module MODL301 – CARIBBEAN CONNECTIONS. The course is open to all finalists in Modern Languages & Cultures.

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