Michel-Rolph Trouillot, a Haitain anthropologist and historian based for a long time in Chicago, died last week. Jason Antrosio has done a wonderful job of drawing attention to Rolph's achievements, compiling an In memoriam page linked to a bibliography and posting this commentary on a rather amazing piece in Sunday's NYT where the likes of Brooks, Friedman and Krugman commented on the significance of Trouillot's work for them. Jason points out that this event attracted more attention outside the anglophone world than in it. I don't think it is surprising that appreciations and assessments have not appeared immediately. Apart from anything else, his friends like me have to consider the impact of his life and personal tragedy, not just his books. But Jason, here and in so many other ways, has shown what anthropology bloggers can do to engage and inform interest in fast-breaking events. Thanks, Jason!
This is sad news. In 2010 I attended a panel at the American Anthropological Association in New Orleans celebrating Trouillot's work. I learnt there that he had been seriously ill for a long time but continued to engage in major intellectual tasks. He was of course a key figure in the anthropology of the Caribbean and he saw the historical anthropology of that region, and of Haiti in particular, as a way of demonstrating how the Enlightenment has been used as an ideological weapon by powerful Western interests.
Like his teacher Sidney Mintz, the philosopher CLR James and others, Trouillot saw the Caribbean as 'modern' in a complex way - it could not be fitted into the anthropological slot of the non-Western others but its trajectory was at odds with the West. The people who lived in the region and the people brought there as slaves have been systematically manipulated and exploited according to European, and then European and North American, interests for over five hundred years. Antilleans nonetheless found their own voices and means of self-representation; ultimately they built the Enlightenment notion of human equality into their projects forcing change on the Europeans, and later, in the case of Cuba, on the U.S.
Ultimately, though, there was and is a systematic silencing of this history in the West; showing this was one of Trouillot's many contributions. It led him to the conclusion that anthropology can never simply be about the the exotic and the different, a sort of salvage ethnography, but must engage with the historical and social processes by which people are globally interconnected. Otherwise, the process of muting or silencing continues unimpeded.
In case some of you started looking for the NYT piece, I have to confess that I treated it as real. The penny has only just dropped. This is not an actual headline, but a wish for one. I can only say sorry for picking it up in the Monday morning rush (actually while in bed reading my iPad) and taking it glibly as an actual link. Maybe most of you saw it more quickly. So much for the intellectual rigour of the blogosphere. If only it had been April 1st, I might have got the joke sooner. And what could be more counter-intuitive than a joke using a guy's death?
Less a joke, more an ironic twist on the invisibility of anthropology and world history. The danger lies in undermining the value of the commentaries in the franco- and hispano- phone blogs: they are real and show something more significant than a few (imaginary) inches in a U.S. newspaper. For anyone unfamiliar with Haitian history and its significance, a few years ago, in the spirit of Trouillot, I wrote a chronology.
I apologize for any misdirection here, and have edited the post for clarity. I have been covering this un-ironically at In Memoriam, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 1949-2012 and been compiling a bibliography at Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Bibliography. My post was not meant to undermine the real value of franco- and hispano-phone coverage, which I have been emphasizing. It is interesting to note how the primary tributes (so far) have been from outside anglophone anthropology, but my point on the "headlines" piece was more about what should have happened years ago, and how we should have never had to read the crap David Brooks wrote after the 2010 earthquake.
No harm done. Part of the problem is that many of us don't read people like Brooks and don't think he is significant. But I do remember now that he wrote that particularly stupid post about Haiti which was discussed at OAC at the time.
My introduction to this thread makes the value of Jason's contribution here abundantly clear and provides the links. But I always say don't joke with strangers (or offer them ironic twists).