Current Institutional Affiliation
Lecturer, History, Newcastle University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Duke University
The Kongolese Atlantic: Central Africans in the Haitian Revolution

My dissertation, “The Kongolese Atlantic: Central Africans in the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804),” examines how enslaved Africans drew on their experiences in Africa to resist chattel slavery in the New World through the most successful slave revolt in history, the Haitian Revolution. The Haitian Revolution has traditionally been seen as derivative of the ideologies of the Enlightenment or the French Revolution circulating in the French Atlantic world. This perspective has failed to explain aspects of the Haitian Revolution that were fundamentally different from, and, indeed, challenged, European ideas. Specifically, the unique religious and social forms that developed in post-emancipation Saint Domingue, Vodou and the lakou. To explore these issues, I develop a cross-regional “Kongolese Atlantic” framework analyze the Haitian Revolution within the African history of the enslaved revolutionaries themselves. The circulation of people and ideas between central Africa and Saint Domingue in the late eighteenth century drew these seemingly disparate areas of the world into a single, deeply intertwined system of exchange. In the French colony of Saint Domingue, 90% of the population was enslaved, two-thirds of whom had been born in Africa, the majority in central Africa. My research shows the majority of central Africans brought to the colony came from east of the Kwango River, and therefore had no prior contact with Europeans. Central Africans in Saint Domingue retained strong ties to central Africa because they had only been in the colony a short while and lived in communities that were majority central African. In my dissertation, I explore the cultural and social backgrounds of central Africans. Using an interdisciplinary methodology that includes traditional archival sources with ethnographic research linguistic analysis, I argue that central Africans strongly influenced the ideas about labor and religion that came to be expressed in the Haitian Revolution.