Saint-Domingue Lost: Imperial French Narratives of the Haitian Revolution

Behind Saint-Domingue Lost and Implementation Resources

As explained in the “Introduction” page, Saint-Domingue Lost: Imperial French Narratives of the Haitian Revolution began as a final group project for an upper-division French course at Vanderbilt University, entitled “Enlightenment and Revolution(s): Representations of the French and Haitian Revolutions in Historiography, Literature, Film, Painting and Music.” This course, taught by Dr. Paul B. Miller and TA’ed by Nathan H. Dize, sought to, according to the syllabus, “consider in tandem two major interrelated historical events in the Francophone world with global repercussions, the French and Haitian Revolutions, and their representations in a cultural realm.” In order to do so, we decided that a collaborative digital humanities project would allow for us to interactively trace, weave, and merge Haitian and French narratives of revolution from the late 18th to the early 19th centuries. The project that you see here is the fruit of a semester-long comparative and translational exercise aimed at getting students to think critically about narrative, discourse, and the, at times, muddled French-language historiography of the Haitian Revolution in its contemporary moment. 

For the pedagogical benefit of the wider community of Caribbean and Francophone digital scholarship, we have decided to include this page, to explain our method and how we embedded this digital project into an upper-division French course. We hope that by sharing this information, future scholars and teachers will adopt similar methods of digital praxis, helping, in part, to bridge the analog/digital divide too often present in advanced literature and civilization courses in Modern Language courses. 

For our implementation process during a fifteen-week semester, see below or listen to Nathan H. Dize on the Leading Lines Podcast for more information.


1. Students were introduced to the final project on the first day of the class with the following description in the course syllabus:

Final project  25%--Digital archives translation project: Students will select a “history” of Haiti/Saint-Domingue written by a French writer (available here) from the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University and will conduct a rhetorical analysis and presentation of the text using the interpretive techniques practiced in class/through course readings. The goal will be to select an 800-1,000 word segment of the text, translate and annotate the excerpt (about 400 words), and write a 600-700 word introduction (with notes) of the translation.

The final presentation of the project will be done both in-class and online in the form of a class-wide website made via Scalar. TA Nathan Dize will assist students with the tech and online aspects of the project (rendering full-text French documents, use of digital tools to help “read” the text, and creation of project website). The grading for the final project will be as follows: (2.5% clean full-text excerpt, 10% translation with annotations, 10% introduction, 2.5% final project uploaded and in-class presentation).

 2. After the first three weeks of the course, students were asked to choose the text that they wished to translate, introduce, and annotate for the final project from the list provided in the syllabus.

3. From week three to week eight, when the full-text corrections were due, students ran “micro experiments” on their texts getting them ready for translation and other layers of curation, including:

4. By week twelve, students had to complete their translations, including notes to be turned in via Google Drive and in class. In the next two weeks, students met with Nathan for individual translation feedback sessions and consultations (either in-person or online).

5. From week twelve to week fifteen, students divided up the pages that would need to be produced for the website and wrote the website copy, which was turned in to Dr. Miller and Nathan, who suggested edits and made any necessary changes. Students also completed the introductions to their translated excerpts and turned those into Dr. Paul Miller

6. While students were producing text, Nathan created the Scalar interface to host the student-driven content. 

7. By week 15, the students had all of their content, translations, and bibliographies sent to Nathan for uploading. On the last day of the course, students introduced their translations, introductions, and held a discussion about the process of producing curated historical translations as well as the lessons learned for future translation endeavors. 

Page contributed by Nathan H. Dize

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