In this first week I want to do several things:

  1. Explain how the course will work.
  2. Talk about the general aim and plan for the course.
  3. Focus in a two issues that touch on philosophy of history:
  4. Giving an initial, very short and highly oversimplified picture of Haitian history.
  5. Get YOU started as a participant, student and respondent in the course.

Wheee. Lots to do in the first week. Let's get rolling.

  1. How the course will work.

    The course will be carried out 100% on-line. Much of the material will be posted on my Haitian history website. There will also be a significant number of e-mails calling attention to what's recently been posted and carrying on discussion.

    PLEASE NOTE: UNLESS YOU EXPLICITYLY AS OTHERWISE, I WILL ASSUME THAT ALL E-MAILS MAY BE POSTED TO MY WEBSITE. If you do not wish this for any given e-mail, or all e-mails, then you will need to contact me and discuss this with me. For students formally enrolled in the course, this communication to the whole course is one of the expectations of the course. For cyber space visitors who are not receiving academic credit, well, that's a whole different issue.

    Within this frame I have devised a tentative plan for the 16 weeks of the semester. This plan can be seen at:

    Weekly plan and topics to be explored

    It includes a mid-term and final examination for the formally enrolled students. These exams will be done by e-mail and by "appointment." That is, the student and I will agree on a time for the exam and I will e-mail the exam shortly before that time. There will be an allowed amount of time to take the exam and return it to me.

    A crucial part of the course is the students' participation in the course. For each week there will be a minimum of three "participation" requirements.

    1. A significant commentary requirement on the assigned readings for the week. Here the student will pick some particular item which he or she found significant or especially interesting and comment on this piece.
    2. A puzzle will need to be formulated by the student concerning something in the week's reading and it should be made clear why this puzzle is puzzling and in what direction the student would see the answer going.
    3. Each week each student must write some significant commentary on another student's writing. This reply must significantly engage the other student's position.

    Students, both formally enrolled students and visitors, are encouraged to participate with even more vigor that those requirements. But these are minimum requirements.

    In the week by week plan there are required readings in two places:

    See again:

    Weekly plan and topics to be explored

    1. Corbett's website.
    2. The text book:  LIBETE: A HAITI ANTHOLOGY.  Edited by Charles Arthur and Michael Dash. Princeton, NJ: Marcus Wiener Publishers, 1999. ISBN: 1-55876-213-2. ($19.95).

    The book has been ordered for the Webster University Book Store in Webster Groves, but it can be ordered from any book store.


    1. Those from Corbett's website which are given or cited below.
    2. Just look over Liberte for this week.

  2. History and contemporary history. How Corbett approaches this course and the history of Haiti in general.

    I see human development as a dialectical relationship between the present and the past. Any given present takes the situation which it has inherited, makes use of the humans and material situation which are present, and those factors seem to determine what that particular moment sees as its "issues." From those issues, and even factoring in unexpected historical "accidents" a period creates its present and leaves the next moment of history with a somewhat new "present."

    This process is never ending. It's not really moment to moment, or issue to issue or process to process, but just a seamless on-going creation of the future. However, from an analytical perspective we observers tend to divide this undivided unity into movement, moments, periods and so forth. I have done this in relation to Haitian history, conveniently dividing it to fit a 16 week semester!

    Such analytical dividing up has both its truth and untruth. There do seem to be moments that stand out, periods that, from a longer-term perspective seem distinguishable. On the other hand, time can't quite be divided up in this way, and this analysis is, in part, misleading and false. Yet it seems necessary for us humans to use these tools to get a clearer grasp on the seamless whole.

    In this course I am not ULTIMATELY interested in the history of Haiti for its own sake. At times I will be so into the historical moment that it will be difficult to believe that. But overall, I am interested, in this course, in how critical moments and periods of Haitian history has slowly created the future. I don't this at all that the past allows us to predict the future, but an historical perspective does, I think, help us to much more clearly understand the present. That is my ultimate aim in this course. To come to more clearly understand the present of Haiti by means of getting a grasp of this Haiti in its development.

    Thus, from this perspective, I will be arguing that ultimately the history of the Taino/Arawak natives, or the period of the pirates are relatively unimportant to the present. On the other hand, the Haitian Revolution, which began more than 200 years ago, is crucially definitive of the present. Now all historical moments seem to weigh the same in power and creative import.

    This is the basic frame of how I approach Haitian history.

  3. Michel-Rolph Trouillot and the "silencing of the past." Haitian born scholar and professor has written brilliantly about his native Haiti. A recent book that I found extremely interesting, not only in what it had to say about Haiti, but more importantly for what it had to say about history itself, was SILENCING THE PAST. I recommend and commend this book to you. However, for now I will only require that you read my review of this book. It can be found at:


  4. Lastly, I make bold to give you an GROSSLY oversimplified history of Haiti at the outset. The point is simply to assume that some of you know almost nothing about Haiti at all. Before we begin (next week) our more systematic construction of Haiti from its historical genesis, I want you to have some brief view of the whole, no matter how trivial and oversimplified. This is a LOADED overview since it smuggles in all the biases and theses that I have and will be arguing in the entire course, but done blandly, presenting this material as though it were TRUTH. As you read my short beginners history, please keep in mind that while the general lines of develop are pretty close to what I claim, there are many controversial and inexact notions that are smuggled in. There is too much that is left out and glossed over. Hopefully the inadequacy of the short overview history will be one of the things you come to see more clearly as the sixteen weeks wear on.

    This history may be found at:


  5. What I expect of you this week:
    1. Do the reading lined out in the above.
    2. Do the three posts required and described at the outset. These should be to me by Sunday August 29, 1999. Posts I receive later than this will receive less that full credit.

If you have any questions about this week's plan, please don't hesitate to contact me at:

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu


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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu