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The Haitian Revolution and the Early United States: Histories, Textualities, Geographies | Elizabeth Maddock Dillon

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Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Distinguished Professor of English; Co-Director, NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks

When Jean-Jacques Dessalines proclaimed Haitian independence on January 1, 1804, Haiti became the second independent republic, after the United States, in the Americas; the Haitian Revolution was the first successful antislavery and anticolonial revolution in the western hemisphere. The histories of Haiti and the early United States were intimately linked in terms of politics, economics, and geography, but unlike Haiti, the United States would remain a slaveholding republic until 1865. While the Haitian Revolution was a beacon for African Americans and abolitionists in the United States, it was a terrifying specter for proslavery forces there, and its effects were profound. In the wake of Haiti’s liberation, the United States saw reconfigurations of its geography, literature, politics, and racial and economic structures.

The Haitian Revolution and the Early United States explores the relationship between the dramatic events of the Haitian Revolution and the development of the early United States. The first section, “Histories,” addresses understandings of the Haitian Revolution in the developing public sphere of the early United States, from theories of state sovereignty to events in the street; from the economic interests of U.S. merchants to disputes in the chambers of diplomats; and from the flow of rumor and second-hand news of refugees to the informal communication networks of the enslaved. The second section, “Geographies,” explores the seismic shifts in the ways the physical territories of the two nations and the connections between them were imagined, described, inhabited, and policed as a result of the revolution. The final section, “Textualities,” explores the wide-ranging consequences that reading and writing about slavery, rebellion, emancipation, and Haiti in particular had on literary culture in both the United States and Haiti.

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