Mary A. Renda is associate professor of history and women's studies at Mount Holyoke College.
Even before the 2010 earthquake destroyed much of the country, Haiti was known as a benighted place of poverty and corruption. Maligned and misunderstood, the nation has long been blamed by many for its own wretchedness. But as acclaimed historian Laurent Dubois makes clear, Haiti's troubled present can only be understood by examining its complex past. The country's difficulties are inextricably rooted in its founding revolution—the only successful slave revolt in the history of the world; the hostility that this rebellion generated among the colonial powers surrounding the island nation; and the intense struggle within Haiti itself to define its newfound freedom and realize its promise.
Dubois vividly depicts the isolation and impoverishment that followed the 1804 uprising. He details how the crushing indemnity imposed by the former French rulers initiated a devastating cycle of debt, while frequent interventions by the United States—including a twenty-year military occupation—further undermined Haiti's independence. At the same time, Dubois shows, the internal debates about what Haiti should do with its hard-won liberty alienated the nation's leaders from the broader population, setting the stage for enduring political conflict. Yet as Dubois demonstrates, the Haitian people have never given up on their struggle for true democracy, creating a powerful culture insistent on autonomy and equality for all.
Revealing what lies behind the familiar moniker of "the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere," this indispensable book illuminates the foundations on which a new Haiti might yet emerge.
Financial Missionaries to the Worldestablishes the broad scope and significance of "dollar diplomacy"—the use of international lending and advising—to early-twentieth-century U.S. foreign policy. Combining diplomatic, economic, and cultural history, the distinguished historian Emily S. Rosenberg shows how private bank loans were extended to leverage the acceptance of American financial advisers by foreign governments. In an analysis striking in its relevance to contemporary debates over international loans, she reveals how a practice initially justified as a progressive means to extend “civilization” by promoting economic stability and progress became embroiled in controversy. Vocal critics at home and abroad charged that American loans and financial oversight constituted a new imperialism that fostered exploitation of less powerful nations. By the mid-1920s, Rosenberg explains, even early supporters of dollar diplomacy worried that by facilitating excessive borrowing, the practice might induce the very instability and default that it supposedly worked against.
"If you go to Antigua as a tourist, this is what you will see. If you come by aeroplane, you will land at the V. C. Bird International Airport. Vere Cornwall (V. C.) Bird is the Prime Minister of Antigua. You may be the sort of tourist who would wonder why a Prime Minister would want an airport named after him--why not a school, why not a hospital, why not some great public monument. You are a tourist and you have not yet seen . . ."
So begins Jamaica Kincaid's expansive essay, which shows us what we have not yet seen of the ten-by-twelve-mile island in the British West Indies where she grew up.
Lyrical, sardonic, and forthright by turns, in a Swiftian mode, A Small Place cannot help but amplify our vision of one small place and all that it signifies.