I have just returned from Florida State University, Tallahassee, where I had co-organized an international conference, ‘Haiti in a Globalized Frame’. The main organizer was Martin Munro, who has recently been appointed as Director of FSU’s Winthrop King Institute. Martin is one of the leading international specialists on Francophone Caribbean literature, and this was the first of what is likely to be a number of major Caribbean events at the Winthrop King under his directorship, as the Institute, inaugurated in 2002, now enters its second decade.
It is exciting to see such events organized in Florida, a state in close proximity to the Caribbean and home to many of Caribbean heritage. This latest conference continues the tradition at FSU of arranging events with focus on Francophone Caribbean—and in particular on Haiti. Last time that I was in Tallahasseee was in February 2010, in the immediate aftermath of the January earthquake in Haiti, for the event ‘The Francophone Caribbean and North America’.
The recent conference theme was inspired in large part by the scholarship, writings and other cultural production of many of those at the conference—Kettly Mars, Leah Gordon, Dany Laferrière, Edouard Duval-Carrié, David Geggus, Michael Dash, Matthew Smith and others—who have explored the place of Haiti in the Americas and in the wider Atlantic, and have also focused on the relationship between, on the one hand, national culture and history, and, on the other, their diasporic dimensions.
This conference also developed questions explored in the events organized by the Leverhulme Trust-funded Oxford Caribbean Globalizations project, 2008-11, in which Martin and I were both external partners. That project focussed critical attention on differing engagements with globalization produced in the Caribbean cultural field. It also acknowledged the extent to which the diversity that characterizes the cultural and social realities of the Caribbean region—arguably forged in the context of earlier forms of globalizations—has been an enduring source of inspiration for Caribbean artists, writers and intellectuals. It questioned the relationship of the Caribbean to the globalized world, explored the role of the Caribbean in historical processes of globalization, and analysed the implications of contemporary globalization for the region today.
The emphasis on a ‘globalized frame’ at the FSU event reflected a number of related concerns. First, there is a need to situate Haiti within concentric circles, national, regional, hemispheric/continental, Atlantic and global. Also there is a need to understand ‘globalized frames’ historically. Despite its long periods of economic and political isolation, Haiti has always been an important global centre, and a particularly modern entity. Born out of the anti-colonial struggles of displaced peoples, an amalgam of diverse languages and cultures, it is quintessentially and irrevocably a creation of global modernity, an integral part of the Americas and of the broader world. These are aspects linked to the international impact of Haitian revolution. Haiti was the centre of a new energy that upset established orders across the globe, throwing up a set of challenges, changes, and paradoxes, the effects of which can still be felt to this day.
In Haiti’s subsequent history, it has remained a global centre, and the country’s triumphs and struggles—and their implications and meaning—have always overflowed their immediate temporal and spatial contexts. Through its diaspora, Haiti is firmly part of international circuits—the conference reflected the ways in which the country persistently and often defiantly exceeds and go beyond its Caribbean borders, and has shaped the history and culture of the broader Americas and the world in significant, if often hidden and obscured ways.
Finally, contemporary globalization continues to have a significant impact on Haiti as it adjusts and responds to the political and social upheaval of the past decade. In the context of the 2010 earthquake, it is important to understand international responses. The earthquake gave Haiti global visibility and triggered a global response. More than ever, we see the presence of the world in Haiti—in UN, NGOs—raising urgent questions about national sovereignty and autonomy, and also, with the outbreak of cholera, causing us to question the ways in which this global presence has compounded existing problems and challenges. Also, with the global comes globalization, not least in its economic and ideological forms, and a belief by some that Haiti’s future lies in its integration into the circuits of global economic production, no matter what the implications for food security, for the environment and for the development of a national infrastructure fit for all.
We enjoyed three days of panels, plenaries, discussions and other sessions, as well as films and exhibitions, all of which brought to light Haiti’s role in shaping history, culture, politics and thought beyond its borders and throughout its history.