Book Club on Jean Casimir’s ‘The Haitians: A Decolonial History’

Battle of Vertières that ended the Haitian War of Independence. Original illustration by Auguste Raffet, engraving by Hébert. (Wikimedia Commons)

The African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) is co-sponsoring an upcoming book club on Jean Casimir’s The Haitians: A Decolonial History, published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2020. Organized by Brandon R. Byrd, Chelsea Stieber, and Shelby Sinclair, the book club begins in August. The club will feature four virtual, monthly meetings, free and open to the public. During these meetings, participants will focus the discussion on one of the following themes: translation; slavery and freedom; sovereignty and the state; and colonialism and decoloniality. Invited scholars will lead each discussion and lend their expertise to our collective attempt to re-think these themes, Haiti, and the world through The Haitians.

To help participants through The Haitians and our discussion, the co-conveners of the book club have created a companion website. Among other information and resources, participants will find a readers’ guide. This guide includes a suggested summer reading schedule to guide our shared engagement with The Haitians in advance of our virtual meetings this fall. Thanks to the University of North Carolina Press, readers can secure their copy of The Haitians through the UNC Press website at a 40% discount using the code 01DAH40.

Finally, we are excited to share that the book club will culminate in a live, in-person event featuring the author, Jean Casimir. This keynote will be held in December 2021 and will feature a leading scholar in conversation with Casimir. Planning is underway and more details about this exciting conclusion to The Haitians book club are forthcoming. We hope you will join us for what anticipate will be a dynamic and interdisciplinary conversation, involving students and scholars in and outside of the academy.

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About the Book

In this sweeping history, leading Haitian intellectual Jean Casimir argues that the story of Haiti should not begin with the usual image of Saint-Domingue as the richest colony of the eighteenth century. Rather, it begins with a reconstruction of how individuals from Africa, in the midst of the golden age of imperialism, created a sovereign society based on political imagination and a radical rejection of the colonial order, persisting even through the U.S. occupation in 1915.

The Haitians also critically retheorizes the very nature of slavery, colonialism, and sovereignty. Here, Casimir centers the perspectives of Haiti’s moun andeyo—the largely African-descended rural peasantry. Asking how these systematically marginalized and silenced people survived in the face of almost complete political disenfranchisement, Casimir identifies what he calls a counter-plantation system. Derived from Caribbean political and cultural practices, the counter-plantation encompassed consistent reliance on small-scale landholding. Casimir shows how lakou, small plots of land often inhabited by generations of the same family, were and continue to be sites of resistance even in the face of structural disadvantages originating in colonial times, some of which continue to be maintained by the Haitian government with support from outside powers.

About the Author

Jean Casimir is a leading scholar of Haitian history and culture. He is a Professor at the Faculty of Human Sciences of the University of Haiti, where he teaches courses on culture and society of Haiti and the Caribbean. He received his formal doctoral training in Sociology and Anthropology at the Universidad Nacional Autûnoma de Mèxico (UNAM), with a particular focus on studies of social change and development. He has held research and teaching positions in the Congo, Brazil , and Mexico. He has also held various posts with the United Nations, including among others United Nations Social Affairs Officer, and a position with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, all the while continuing his academic studies on Haiti. More recently, he served as Haiti’s Ambassador to the United States (1991-1996). His publications include La Cultura Oprimida (1980), La Caraibe, une et divisible (English version The Caribbean: One and Divisible, 1992), Ayiti Toma, Haiti Chèrie (2000), Pa Bliye 1804, Souviens-toi de 1804 (2004), and Libëte, Egaliteösou wout fratënite, Libertè, …galitèöen route vers la Fraternitè (2005), as well as countless book chapters and articles on Haitian culture, history and development.

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Comments on “Book Club on Jean Casimir’s ‘The Haitians: A Decolonial History’

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    A fantastic read in a time of great turmoil where we are still struggling to understand the chaos that persists in Haiti, a country that achieved the first successful revolution against the tyranny of slavery.

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