Louis Joseph Janvier, Haitian Statesman

Julian Gantt, Class of 2007

This summer, my research focused on a specific individual—Louis Joseph Janvier. Janvier was an eminent, if today largely unknown, turn-of-the-century Haitian statesman, doctor, and novelist. He was born in Port-au-Prince in 1855 to a prosperous Protestant family and at the age of twenty-two left his beloved homeland to complete his medical studies in France. The cultural and intellectual life of France during the early years of the Third Republic nurtured the young Janvier and he published a number of articles in the leading avant-garde journals of the day. As he matured, Janvier, along with other expatriate Haitian scholars of his generation, began to challenge the racist and colonial order which constituted the metropolitan milieu of the Third Republic. Janvier took up his pen innumerable times to defend what he identified as the black race and to extol its ability for rational progress as symbolized by his patrie, Haiti. I am particularly interested in how Janvier created these critiques: what types of knowledge did he deploy to fashion them? Where were these situated? How were nation, race, and empire connected?

To begin wrestling with these questions I moved to Hamilton Heights, a tree-lined neighborhood in west Harlem where the Caribbean-born Alexander Hamilton built his mansion in 1802. I lived a short distance from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, one of the research libraries in the New York Public Library system. The Schomburg Center has one of the best collections of Haitiana in North America and holds the correspondence of Haiti’s diplomatic representatives, stretching from the earliest days of the nation through the United States occupation. With the help of the skilled librarians at the Schomburg, I sifted through diplomatic papers, written in Janvier’s own hand, from the 1890s through the beginning of the twentieth century when he was the chargé d'affaires at the Haitian Legation in London. I also had access to nearly all of Janvier’s published works and even discovered a few articles that he wrote for Haitian newspapers that I have never seen referenced elsewhere. Beyond the Schomburg, I made extensive use of the Humanities Library in Midtown to track down articles that Janvier published in French periodicals of his day which did not specifically focus on issues of race.

I plan to develop this research into a thesis to be completed in 2007 which will use Janvier as a means of exploring Haiti’s unique and complex position as an independent and black nation-state in the nineteenth-century context of expanding colonial empires throughout Africa and the Caribbean. There are very few scholarly works which deal critically with the period of Haitian history between the Revolution and Haiti’s “second independence” from U.S. occupation in 1934, as most historians write off the latter half of the nineteenth century as a period of “decline”. I hope to challenge this dismissal by using the work of postcolonial scholars such as Homi K. Bhabha, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Partha Chatterjee, Paul Gilroy, Edouard Glissant, Achille Mbembe, David Scott, and Michel-Rolph Trouillot.

I am truly grateful for the financial assistance of the Evalyn Clark Memorial Travel Fellowship. Without its support, this summer of research would have been impossible.