School of Humanities and Social Science
HISTORY SEMINAR SERIES – 2009
‘At the Feet of Dessalines’: Black Americans, the Haitian Revolution and the Myths of History
Friday, 1 May
10am to 11am
(with morning tea/coffee afterwards)
Cultural Collections Reading Room (near the Information Common)
Level 2, Auchmuty Library, Callaghan Campus
Black Americans during the interwar years expended a remarkable amount of energy describing the history, culture and current conditions of people in the nearby republic of Haiti. Their efforts went beyond non-fiction, with diverse cultural producers turning their hands to the task, including librettists, composers, visual artists, filmmakers, photographers and writers of short stories, poetry, novels and plays. Such products were part of a cultural-political movement known as the New Negro Renaissance, which was characterized by an intense scrutiny of all issues relating to black identity. Culture produced during the era challenged mainstream and dominant accounts of history, which claimed for the United States a unique position as the most progressive of nation-states, the founder of modern democracy, the place where the ideals formulated in ancient Greece finally came to fruition. Black writers and artists used a wide variety of cultural forms to campaign for adequate recognition of black Americans’ past and present contributions to the American nation, but also to challenge the idea that America was exceptional.
This paper will examine stage productions and films in which black Americans drew attention to the occupation by United States Marines of the neighboring republic. In bringing Haiti to life on stage and in film, playwrights and filmmakers introduced into the public sphere a sustained and serious attack on the reputation and credibility of the United States. Denouncing their homeland as an imperial overlord, not so different from the European imperial states that Americans so often defined themselves against, black Americans pledged their allegiance to Haitians, and by extension, with other colonized people around the world.
Staff, students and members of the public are welcome