Saint-Domingue by Way of Saint Petersburg: Writing the Haitian Revolution in Imperial Russia

Wednesday, September 26, 2018
Marshall D. Shulman Seminar Room (1219 International Affairs Building, 420 W 118th St)

Please join us for a talk with Jennifer Wilson.

In 1802, Nikolai Karamzin founded the journal Messenger of Europe with the intention that it would inform the Russian public of current political developments in the West, including as they related to the European colonies. From its inaugural issue through 1804, about two dozen stories explicitly concerning the Haitian Revolution appeared in its pages, and as an editor, Karamzin was sympathetic to the cause. In this talk, Jennifer Wilson will explore Karamzin’s investments in a successful slave rebellion on the island of Saint-Domingue (present-day Haiti) with a focus on how the Haitian Revolution provided a canvas onto which he could impose his own preoccupations with matters of self-determination and the right of Russia (and Haiti) to form governments that departed from the norms and practices of the West. Special attention will be paid to how Karamzin utilized the then-emerging ideas of climate theory and race science to make the case that the African slaves in Haiti, like Slavs, were physiologically different from Western Europeans and thus, he claimed, required different forms of governance. Wilson will also discuss the presence of Polish soldiers on Haiti and how this complicated Karamzin’s coverage of the fighting given his fears of Polish independence.

Jennifer Wilson received her PhD in Russian Literature from Princeton University and from 2015-2018 was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. Her essays on Russian literary culture and politics have appeared in The New York Times, The New YorkerThe Paris Review, and the The Atlantic.

Image: A still from Haiti/Halka (exhibition for the Polish Pavillion at the 2015 Venice Biennale)