Mapping the Haitian Revolution (Review)

In their December 2020 issue, archipelagos: a journal of Caribbean digital practice recently featured the fascinating Mapping the Haitian Revolution project, by Stephanie Curci and Christopher Jones (both from Phillips Academy Andover).

How many of us, as university professors, have found ourselves teaching college students in the fields of, for example, Africana studies, American studies, Latin American studies, and history, among others, whose knowledge of Haiti’s revolution is strikingly limited if not entirely nonexistent? How many of us have had to teach into the void of disinformation that has long excluded Haiti from the so-called Age of Revolutions? The extent to which Haiti’s struggle for independence has been effectively silenced from US-American “common knowledge” is remarkable. Moreover, it is a failing we can attribute at least in part to the omission of Haiti from secondary education curricula across the country. The Mapping the Haitian Revolution aims to push back against that particular lacuna by providing to high school educators a rich and dynamic online pedagogical resource, featuring compellingly presented historical information as well as sample syllabi and bibliographical resources.

archipelagos review

Contribution

­Teaching the Haitian Revolution, with its many stages, actors, and battles, can be an overwhelming task for educators. Stephanie Curci and Christopher Jones, instructors at Phillips Academy Andover (of English and history, respectively), have taken up the Haitian Revolution Axis Map project to bring clarity to the complicated narrative of the Haitian Revolution in ways that will most certainly help high school teachers integrate the history of the Haitian Revolution and of enslavement in the Americas into their classrooms. 

The site authors have included a brief bibliography and multilingual resources in the “About” section to provide increased context to educators wanting to learn more about the Haitian Revolution. This section also includes syllabi for tenth- and twelfth-grade units, featuring readings by scholars such as Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Laurent Dubois, and John D. Garrigus. Charts on Saint Domingue’s population growth, Léger-Félicité Sonthonax’s emancipation proclamation, and links to the Institut de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine National’s historical bulletins are also provided. It should be noted that the bibliography currently omits some of the websites, charts, and bulletins that appear in the map’s narrative and events

High school teachers would benefit from a quick guide and webinar on how to use this resource, as well as a document on terminology, especially for educators not familiar with the Haitian Revolution in such detail and who perhaps have less time to cover the topic. Additionally, having an option to download PDFs of the site’s content would increase accessibility. To facilitate the project’s integration into curricula, the creators might also recommend varied approaches to the topic for different learners and provide more information about how the site fits curriculum standards.

Design

The Haitian Revolution Axis Map is quite easy to navigate, offering several ways of interacting with the timeline. One can, for example, press the large “Play” button on the bottom left of the map so that the timeline automatically chronicles the project’s narrative in its entirety. It should be noted that while the narrative moves quickly, the site allows the user to pause and focus if additional time is needed to look at the fascinating details. An events timeline located just below the map allows the user to manually move through the history in respect to particular sections of the map and to then click on the circles and square boxes that highlight particular bits of information, including battles, notable figures, and colonial powers. Alternatively, the user can choose instead to jump to different designated time periods (for example, “1791–1798: Louverture’s Rise to Power”) by selecting from a dropdown menu at the top left or by selecting individual points on the timeline below the map.

The different time periods determined by the site authors provide varying degrees of detail and context for actors, events, and battles. Each section begins with a brief description and a list of events. This list provides the user with additional information, including references to archival materials, secondary sources, and other teaching materials. The top of the map provides a list of event types, which are designated by evocative icons: multiple people for colonial settlements, swords to reference battles, and a fire symbol to indicate revolts. The map also provides color-coded indicators of the actors involved in each time period and includes an option to focus solely on the map without any thumbnails appearing. The home button feature allows the user to zoom in closer to view the details of the events and actors mentioned in each time period. All these design elements make clear the thoughtfulness and care the creators put into the user interface. The map is intuitive and engaging in every respect. [. . .]

Preservation

No information is currently provided regarding site maintenance. In addition, given that digital scholarship projects about Haiti continue to emerge, the creators would do well to decide—and to indicate—whether and how often they will update the project site and its many resources.

Overall, the “Haitian Revolution Axis Map” is an ambitious and beautifully realized project. Though its stated target audience is primarily high school teachers and students, the platform might also serve as a resource for college students in entry-level courses. There is no question that it will be incredibly generative for educators seeking to push back against the persistent silence that surrounds the Haitian Revolution in US pedagogical contexts. [. . .]

For complete review and footnotes, see http://archipelagosjournal.org/issue05/jones-mapping.html

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