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 reveals 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?” I finished: “It makes us question the nature of revolutionary movements.”

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An Island in History

This past August my family and I traveled to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (HHI). It was an over ten-hour drive from where we live in Maryland. I will just add that such a long car ride with two toddlers is a form of hell that I hope most people will never, ever have to experience. Not to mention that my daughter came down with a horrible ear infection and a MRSA infection in her foot that then spread to my husband’s leg.

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FACING A HERITAGE OF HATE: The Charleston Church Massacre and its Historical Implications


In response to Dylann Roof’s massacre of nine black Americans attending bible study during the night of June 17, 2015, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina commented, “I just think he was one of these whacked-out kids. I don’t think it’s anything broader than that.” In a similar vein, South Carolina Governor Niki Haley asserted that “we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”[1] These comments mistakenly suggest that Roof’s motivations are somehow inscrutable and unknowable. Yet, in several different instances, Roof explicitly expressed his reasons for committing such a heinous act of violence. During the actual massacre, for example, Roof exclaimed to his victims: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”[2] As well, in the months leading up to the massacre, Roof posted on several social media outlets pictures of himself proudly displaying the Confederate battle flag in addition to a manifesto that outlined his desire to start a race war in the hopes of reclaiming what he believed to be the rightful domination of white Americans over black Americans.[3] 

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