UH Moment

UH Moment: “Haiti”

How do you judge a nation's exceptionalism?  One UH history professor suggests America ask one of its neighbors to the south.  Listen to this week's UH Moment.

Haiti is a small country, a poor country, that sits low on our geographic radar.  But University of Houston professor Matt Clavin says events in Haiti are worthy of study in American history

UH History Professor Matt ClavinUH History Professor Matt Clavin

“If you want to feel that America is an exceptional place, you need to know the stories of who we have influenced,” he said.  “Look at who has tried to mimic us, who has modeled their nation on ours. And Haiti was really the first to imitate us to such an extraordinary extent.”  

Clavin is part of a movement in history departments to broaden the study of American history to include the global influences that led to American exceptionalism. 

His new book, “Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War:  The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution,” describes why the history of Haiti is so connected to American history, specifically the Civil War

Toussaint Louverture and the American Civil War:  The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian RevolutionToussaint Louverture and the American Civil War: The Promise and Peril of a Second Haitian Revolution

“What their ancestors did 200 years ago was unprecedented.   This was a colony of slaves, African and African Americans, about half million,” he said.  “They rose up and destroyed the armies of France, Spain and England and created a new nation.  That is remarkable.” 

Clavin says theuprising led by Toussaint Louveture’s actions were inspiring to American abolitionists.

John Brown, when he was incarcerated after the failed Harper’s Ferry raid, was interviewed by a newspaper reporter, and John Brown, much to the shock and awe of the reporter, said he wanted to be the second coming of Toussaint Louverture.” 

The Civil War changed America.  Changed American culture.  And Haiti was a part of that.

“It’s a whole new modern take on the American Civil War.  Beyond what started the civil war or which side won,” Clavin said.  “This is a new wave of historical research that is changing the way we look at American history.”

Haiti is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston.  I’m Marisa Ramirez.

Telling the stories of the University of Houston, this UH Moment is brought to you by KUHF, listener supported radio from the University of Houston.