Breaking the Silence: The Historiography of the Haitian Revolution

 

“Why am I just now learning about the Haitian Revolution, especially in a modern European history course? Is it really that significant?” She was a young student. Although I cannot fully remember, I think she was a freshman. I stared back at her desperately trying to pretend that I was not frantically searching my brain for a clear answer. The problem was not a lack of answers; on the contrary, the problem was an overflow of ideas. It was my first semester working as a teaching assistant for a course on the history of modern Europe. At this stage, I still thought that as the instructor, I was supposed to know everything and anything at any given moment. In these early days, my discussion sections felt like twice-weekly pop quizzes.

Returning to the young student, I cleared my throat, broke my silence, and insecurely delivered what I prayed was a satisfactory answer. Gazing at her inquisitive eyes and feeling the other student’s predatory stares, I explained how the Haitian Revolution is significant to our understanding of the French Revolution.[1] I continued: “The Haitian Revolution signals the inconsistencies within the French Revolution.” Gaining a little bit more confidence, I turned the question back to my class exclaiming, “The Haitian Revolution makes us ask, ‘was the French Revolution about liberty and equality or was it about private property rights?” I finished: “It makes us question the nature of revolution, or if there is even a nature that can be indentified.” Realizing I was getting a little carried away with my own thoughts, I turned back to the student. She seemed satisfied since she now had some discussion points on the Haitian Revolution to include in her midterm exam. While my student was satisfied, I was not. In all honestly, that was the first time I had ever studied the Haitian Revolution and I began to wonder why the history of the Haitian Revolution appeared to be such an obscure topic.

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Revolutionary Style: A Review of Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion

For decades, scholars have attempted to capture the circumstances that led up to the French Revolution. In The Coming of the French Revolution, for instance, Georges Lefebvre explains the causes of the French Revolution with a socioeconomic interpretation. In particular, Lefebvre argues that the rising dominance of the bourgeoisie produced the political turmoil of the revolution.[1] In other works, scholars, such as Francois Furet, Robert Darnton, and Keith Michael Baker, underscore the importance of political ideologies and culture for understanding the causes of the revolution.[2] Still others historians, such as Timothy Tackett, contend that the ineptitude of the royal family also helped to bring about the war. Tackett, for example, insists that the salacious and careless actions of the royal family before and during the war undermined the public’s perception of the family as a symbol of sacred authority.[3]

Similar to Tackett’s analysis, Caroline Weber also draws attention to the significance of the royal family in Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.[4] The central aim of Weber’s study is to show how Marie Antoinette used the appeal of court fashion to exert political power. Through a comparison of Marie Antoinette to her famous ancestor, Louis XIV, Weber argues that the queen “identified fashion as a key weapon in her struggle for personal prestige, authority, and sometimes mere survival.”[5] In all, Weber concludes that Marie Antoinette fought her political adversaries with style.

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Exorcising the Past: The Historiography of Witchcraft Cases in England and New England

 

I have been fascinated by witchcraft trials since I was a child. This fascination is partly rooted in a childhood that was filled with my Grandma’s stories of our ancestor who was hung as a witch during the Salem Witch Trials.[1] Today, I am more drawn to understanding the array of interpretations historians have developed to explain the phenomenon of witchcraft accusations. It is believed that the last legal execution of an alleged witch occurred in 1782 at Glarus, Switzerland.[2] Astonishingly, even before the last execution took place skepticism surrounding witch hunts developed among educated European elites. In an attempt to rationalize witch hunts, these early interpretations enlisted “monocausal” explanations blaming the trials on the alleged bigotry and ignorance of the clergy and judges. Essential to these explanations was the assumption that witch hunts occurred because of a pre-enlightened past in which irrationality and a lack of science enabled persecution. This Crucible- like interpretation is still the most widespread understanding of witchcraft trials in popular culture. [3]

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Mad Men and the History of Advertising in America

In the episodes leading up to the Mad Men series finale, the show’s foremost character, the ever charismatic and manipulative Don Draper, who also happens to be the embodiment of the mid-twentieth-century advertising man, had been on a whirlwind Jack Kerouac-esque trip across America. Throughout this trip, we watched Don shed his personal possessions: for instance, he gave his car to a rookie con artist and his former wife’s wedding ring to his pseudo niece Stephanie. By the end, all he had was a tattered envelop full of money. By this time, Don had also found himself at a Esalen-like retreat facility in California where he experienced what appeared to be an emotional breakthrough.

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The Fight for Equality Continues: The Problems of Christina Hoff Sommers’s History of Feminism

Recently Bill Frezza of Real Clear Radio Hour interviewed Christina Hoff Sommers about her new book, Freedom Feminism: Its Surprising History and Why it Matters Today.[1] Frezza also wrote a follow-up piece in the opinion section of Forbes magazine.[2] As Frezza describes it, Sommers’s book uncovers the hidden history of feminism and its implications for women today.

To start, Sommers identifies two major strands of feminism that have shaped the struggle for women’s rights: “egalitarian feminism” and “maternal feminism.” (For those familiar with Sommers’s earlier works, she previously labeled these competing strands as “gender feminism” and “equity feminism”).

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