In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Haitian Revolution

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Haiti Before the Revolution, Saint-Domingue
  • The French Revolution, Colonialism, and Slavery in the Caribbean
  • Conflict in Saint-Domingue before 1802
  • Race and Identity
  • Toussaint Louverture
  • Dessalines and Other Key Figures
  • The Leclerc Expedition, the Reestablishment of Slavery, and Haitian Independence
  • International Repercussions
  • Haiti and the United States
  • Refugees
  • Legacy and Memory

Atlantic History The Haitian Revolution
Marie-Jeanne Rossignol
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0030


The Haitian Revolution has continually triggered scholarly (and literary) interest since its inception, thanks to its unique blend of racial, international, and political factors. But it has remained largely peripheral to distinctive historical narratives. In particular, Saint-Domingue and Haiti are interwoven with the narrative of the French Revolution, to which they were closely connected, in the literature until the end of the 20th century. Aside from a few precursors, increased attention to the Haitian Revolution emerged only with the commemoration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1989. Yet it was the coming of the bicentennial of Haiti’s independence in 2004 that inspired numerous authors on both sides of the Atlantic to scrutinize the topic. On the French side, scholarly production mainly consisted of collections of essays connected to commemorative conferences. French Caribbean scholars based in Martinique and Guadeloupe also contributed to this considerable effort, together with Haitian scholars, for whom, of course, the revolution was a foundational event. On the American side, the production of collections of essays accompanied the publication of major monographs. Recent North American interest in Haiti can be linked to the development of the Atlantic paradigm, which has induced younger writers to focus on a non-British Atlantic. On both sides of the Atlantic and in the Caribbean, new research on Haiti is linked to the dominant historiographical question of slavery (in all its dimensions, social, political, and cultural), together with rising sensitivity to questions of hybridity, creolization, and colonial and postcolonial discussions in literature, philosophy, and cultural studies. Far from remaining peripheral, the Haitian Revolution has thus rapidly moved to the center of historical attention. It remains a vivid symbol of black resistance and identity for contemporary Haiti, the Caribbean, and beyond, which explains why a number of authors on the revolution (mainly in French) are also novelists, playwrights, poets, journalists, or philosophers.

General Overviews

The Haitian Revolution has been studied as a pivotal moment in the history of emancipation (Blackburn 1988) or the international class struggle (James 1938). Fick 1990 argues that the role of the black masses in triggering the insurrection is an essential component of the narratives. Dubois 2004 studies the Haitian Revolution in its complexity, employing both primary and secondary sources.

  • Blackburn, Robin. The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776–1848. New York: Verso, 1988.

    A Marxist interpretation of the abolition of slavery in the Western world, with the Haitian Revolution as a central element, in support of the idea that the enslaved played a crucial role in the history of emancipation. Blackburn opposes Eric Williams’s thesis to contend that slavery was abolished mainly for political reasons.

  • Dubois, Laurent. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004.

    Relying on secondary and published sources as well as primary sources, this narrative has been translated into French and is considered the most compelling synthetic account. It is an excellent introduction to the complex questions raised by the Saint-Domingue insurrection and the successful revolution that ensued. Graduate students will greatly benefit from its erudite yet balanced coverage.

  • Fick, Carolyn. The Making of Haiti: The Saint-Domingue Revolution from Below. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990.

    Fick focuses on the role of black masses in the revolution, seeing continuity between prerevolutionary marronage and black resistance after 1791, with a strong emphasis on events in the traditionally neglected southern part of Saint-Domingue and on voodoo.

  • James, C. L. R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint Louverture and the San Domingo Revolution. London: Secker and Warburg,1938.

    This narrative by a radical Marxist activist from Trinidad was the classic treatment of the subject until Fick 1990 and Dubois 2004. James insists on the connection between French revolutionary principles and the revolution in Saint-Domingue, then Haiti, and on the role of the masses. Sees the revolution as part of the international class struggle. Reprinted in 1963 (New York: Vintage).

  • The Louverture Project.

    A free Haitian history resource that follows the format of Wikipedia. This site also contains source material.

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