This essay analyzes the genre of mémoire produced by gens de couleur (free people of color) within the colonial and military bureaucracy of revolutionary Saint-Domingue. Building on recent scholarship on Toussaint Louverture’s 1802 “Mémoire du général Toussaint Louverture,” it situates the genre in broader conversation with the mass of bureaucratic and administrative writing in the colony by offering close readings of mémoires from Julien Raimond and André Rigaud. Though written for different purposes, these mémoires evince a shared formal and rhetorical strategy: they present textual evidence and employ forensic rhetoric to refute competing claims and vindicate their cause. By elucidating the generic conventions of the mémoire, this essay contributes to the growing body of scholarship on Black writing that has moved beyond the paradigm of the slave narrative toward other forms and genres of Black protest. In so doing, it refocuses vindicationism on these rhetorical evidentiary practices, rather than on the mythos of romance and romantic overcoming that has categorized vindicationist narratives of the Haitian Revolution.
Mémoire and Vindicationism in Revolutionary Saint-Domingue
Chelsea Stieber is associate professor of French and francophone studies at Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. She is author of Haiti’s Paper War: Post-independence Writing, Civil War, and the Making of the Republic, 1804–1954 (2020), and coeditor, with Brandon Byrd, of the critical translation of Louis Joseph Janvier’s Haiti for the Haitians (forthcoming). Her scholarship and essays have appeared in academic journals, including Francosphères, French Studies, and Contemporary French Civilization, and on digital platforms such as Africa Is a Country, the Abusable Past (Radical History Review), and Public Books. She is currently working on a new project on Caribbean fascism, for which she was awarded an ACLS fellowship for the academic year 2020–21.
Chelsea Stieber; Mémoire and Vindicationism in Revolutionary Saint-Domingue. Small Axe 1 March 2022; 26 (1 (67)): 30–54. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/07990537-9724037
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