Silencing The Past


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Silencing The Past

  1. 1. SILENCING THE PAST POWER and the PRODUCTION of HISTORY Michel-Rolph Trouillot
  2. 2. “Human beings participate in history both as actors and narrators. The inherent ambivalence of the word „history‟ in many modern languages, suggests this dual participation. In vernacular use, history means both the facts of the matter and the narrative of those facts, both „what happened‟ and „that which is
  3. 3. How is History Silenced? • there is a silencing in the making of sources - not everything gets remembered or recorded • there is a silencing in the creation of archives - judgments made, and some evidence is lost or omitted • narrators silence parts of their stories – personal memory • not all historical evidence is included in the general version of “accepted past”
  4. 4. Acknowledging History The West fails to recognize certain historical events
  5. 5. The Alamo The events of the Battle of the Alamo are still debated •Freedom-loving Americans v. American expansionists •The “Second Battle of the Alamo” – the fight to acknowledge participants of all ethnicities
  6. 6. DENIAL Holocaust deniers insist that one of the most horrific events in history never happened
  7. 7. David Irving, Speech in Portland, OR. September 18, 1996. • quot;When I get to Australia in January.... they are going to wheel out all the so-called eyewitnesses…they can be very convincing. We're going to meet because she has that tattoo. I am going to say, 'You have that tattoo, we all have the utmost sympathy for you. • But how much money have you made on it! In the last 45 years! Can I estimate! Quarter of a million! Half million! Certainly not less. That's how much you've made from the German taxpayers and the American taxpayers.' Ladies and gentlemen, you're paying $3 billion a year to the State of Israel. Compensation to people like Mrs. Altman. She'll say, 'Why not, I suffered.' I'll say you didn't. You survived. By definition you didn't suffer. Not half as much
  8. 8. The Haitian Revolution Why has it been silenced?
  9. 9. Background • The Spanish in Hispaniola learned the island was not at the source of gold - Hispaniola was converted into a farming region to provide food for the Spanish in other areas of the Caribbean and Central America • African slaves were imported as early as 1508 and were soon the primary labor source • French began to have an interest in the island by the early 17th century
  10. 10. • The French colony of Saint Domingue occupied the western 1/3 of the island of Hispaniola • The eastern 2/3, Santo Domingo, belonged to the Spanish Empire
  11. 11. • By 1791 there were approximately 500,000 slaves and about 50,000 free people in San Domingue – a 10:1 ratio • 30,000 of those free people were people of color, both black and mulatto
  12. 12. The Spirit of Revolution
  13. 13. The American Revolution
  14. 14. The French Revolution Robespierre
  15. 15. The Haitian Revolution
  16. 16. Dessaline Toussaint Boukman The Leaders
  17. 17. 1791-1804 • August 1791 – slaves in the north staged a revolt • Over the course of the next thirteen years this uprising spread into a revolution that ended slavery and the French colonial government • January 1804 – The nation of Haiti declared its independence
  18. 18. • The Ruins of Sans-Souci
  19. 19. Why is the Haitian Revolution so obscure compared to the American and French Revolutions? • The importance of an event or figure does not always receive the amount of attention deserved when written about. “As sources fill the historical landscape with their facts, they reduce the room available for other facts.”(49)
  20. 20. SLAVERY • “Colonization provided the most potent impetus for the transformation of European ethnocentrism into scientific racism.” (77) • “…the practice of slavery in the Americas secured the black‟s position at the bottom of the human world.” (77)
  21. 21. The whites of Europe and the Americas found it inconceivable that slaves could form and carry out a revolution, even in the midst of such an event
  22. 22. EQUALITY • To acknowledge a trend of slave resistance is to acknowledge slaves as humanity, and thus accept them as capable of thinking of themselves as human beings deserving of better treatment • “To acknowledge resistance as a mass phenomenon is to acknowledge the possibility that something is wrong with the system.” (84)
  23. 23. • References made by the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of the Rights of Man that “men are created equal” pertained to a small number of white, landowning males • “In 1791, there was no public debate on the record, in France, in England, or in the United States on the right of black slaves to achieve self-determination, and the right to do so by way of armed resistance.” (88) • White can revolt in armed resistance, blacks cannot
  24. 24. Haiti on the Map
  25. 25. • “The Haitian Revolution expressed itself through its deeds, and it is through political practice that it challenged Western philosophy and colonialism” (89) • When news of the uprising reached France in August of 1791, most refused to believe that the reports were true
  26. 26. • The possibility that slaves could have conceived of and organized an uprising on their own was unthinkable and unacceptable • Outside influences must have been responsible for instigating such events (silencing history?) • The suspect: royalists, British, mulattos, Republicans
  27. 27. AN UNCHANGING WORLD • Views of the minority by the majority in Europe and the Americas did not improve with time • Imperialists carved up Africa and Asia • A successful revolution in Haiti was as unthinkable in 1903 as it had been in 1803
  28. 28. Sometimes Paradise??
  29. 29. SILENCING HISTORY • History is silenced by countering it with generalities of an opposing view • In regards to Haiti > military efficiency of the slaves, French susceptibility to yellow fever, and other outside influences factored heavily into Haitian success • Was it “luck”?
  30. 30. • “The less colonialism and racism seem important in world history, the less important also the Haitian Revolution.” (98) • The lack of historical writings to mention the Haitian Revolution contributes to the silencing of history • Celebrations of the French Revolution and of slave emancipation by the French failed to stir interest in the Haitian Revolution
  31. 31. • Looking back on the events of history, overlapping events become linear, context fades away, what happened morphs into what is said to have happened • “Discovery” of new lands by Europeans replaces “invasion” of inhabited lands
  32. 32. The Explorers
  33. 33. THE WORLD‟S COLUMBIAN EXPOSISTION OF CHICAGO - 1893 • Columbus became a hero in the USA • America told the world Columbus‟s story • Some historical significance downplayed, others completely silenced
  34. 34. Chicago‟s World Fair
  35. 35. DISNEYLAND • “The value of historical product cannot be debated without taking into account both the context of its production and the context of its consumption.” (146) • Tourist attractions representing atrocities like slavery or the Holocaust • “The crux of the matter is the here and now, the relationship between the events described and their public representations in a specific historic context.” (147)
  36. 36. • There is little concern over the public learning the wrong facts, the concern is focussed on public reaction rather than what they learn. • No one wants the “wrong” reaction…
  37. 37. SILENCE “We now know that narratives are made of silences, not all of which are deliberate or even perceptible as such within the time of their production. We also know that the present is no clearer than the past.” (152)
  38. 38. Other Works on Revoltions 1. Washington's Crossing by David Hackett Fischer 2. Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution by Simon Schama 3. The Russian Revolution by Sheila Fitzpatrick 4. The Haitian Revolution 1789-1804 by Thomas O. Ott