Americas and Oceania Collections blog

Exploring the Library’s collections from the Americas and Oceania

15 January 2010

Haiti on my mind


from Empire d'Haiti, New York: [1852]

A month or so ago I received notification of a conference on Haiti and it caused me to think about our holdings from the country.  At the American Studies Association annual conference in Albuquerque last year, I had met a Ph.D student who was working on 18th and early 19th century Haiti and I was able to tell her that we had some letters between the widow of Henri Christophe and Mrs Thomas Clarkson. Perhaps not totally surprising since they are included in Thomas Clarkson’s papers, but we’ve got a lot more on Haiti than you might think. And we’ve been finding even more as part of the work that Beth is doing for our Caribbean digitisation project (who knew that we had a 1793 letter from Dessalines!). I had intended to write a blog on the subject but was distracted by having to go off to do jury service for most of December. I never imagined that Haiti would have been brought back to my attention - and the centre of the news, in the way that it has over the past week, as we have watched on TV the dreadful aftermath of the earthquake and its effects on both the people and the land.

Inevitably I’ve been thinking about the history of the country – where more bad things have happened to the people over the years than you can possibly imagine. A piece in yesterday’s Guardian provided some much needed historical context for the disaster, with a good chronology of events. But some might question the omissions (what about the impact of neo-liberal globalisation policies and U.S. led or influenced military coups for example?), and it’s sadly become all too easy to perpetuate the ‘Haiti as tragedy’ narrative. So for a somewhat different perspective, you might want to listen to US policy in Haiti over decades "Lays the foundation for why the impact of natural disaster is so severe", which features Bill Quigley, the legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti.

And I’m also reminded that at such times of terrible disaster and suffering, there are always those who try to take advantage, so if you’re thinking of donating to any of the disaster funds, make sure you choose carefully to avoid the scammers. The BBC has provided a useful list



Good points, well made, CH. Having been Curator of Carib. Collections at the BL until recently, I did know of the Dessalines letter, but it definitely deserves to be more widely known. From memory, Claude Boucher, the recently-appointed Deputy High Commissioner for Canada in the UK was previously posted to Haiti, and may well be interested in viewing the Library's holdings on the island. Also, check out the Rough Guide to Haitian Music, and Andy Kershaw's broadcasts from the country on the BBC R3 pages, for an inspiring reminder of the country's rich musical history. Wonder what Mr Kershaw thinks about recent events, having been such a regular visitor over the years. Best to all, Dorian.

Hi Dorian, good to hear from you.

Latest on the earthquake in Haïti from IFLA and the global library community, including links to the Francoise Thybulle, the National Library director's posting on Facebook and photographs:

" " ... the building of the National library is safe, the shelves and holdings have shifted...we will prevail ... our building is the only one standing in the whole area...

I have not yet been able to locate all the personel, half of them are safe we keep on checking we will keep you posted." - Francoise Thybulle

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