This project has been percolating in my brain for years, but it got off the ground in the spring of 2007, when I finally started visiting and revisiting sites across the country. When I was a graduate student, I was so disappointed to see how many professors had read about and taught the Haitian Revolution and colonial Caribbean literature but had never seen the places. I hope this site can be an academic resource as well as a sort of map for historical nerds. In the future, I plan on translating it into French and Kreyol as well. My goal is to make as complete, collaborative, and inclusive a site as possible.
This project started as a visual record of colonial and early-national ruins in Haiti (1830 and before), but it’s grown and will continue to grow in both scope and depth. For instance, I’ve included gingerbread-style and other architecture from Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien, and Jacmel that is, of course, from much later periods. I would like to tie these records to online historical sources and appropriate bibliographical resources where appropriate. Please see resources for some suggestions.
While there are current ISPAN (Institut de Sauvegarde du Patrimoine National), UNESCO, and other NGO-sponsored rehabilitation/restoration/stabilization projects on some notable sites (including the Citadelle LaFerrière in Milot, the Palais de Trois-cent-soixante-cinq Portes in Petite Rivière, and the new ISPAN/tourism complex in Cap-Haitien, to name just a few), there are hundreds—if not thousands—of sites that are undocumented—visually or otherwise—and being destroyed. Often, forts are taken apart stone by stone to be used in construction, cannons are stolen and melted down, and the ruins of mills might be destroyed for farmland. Without the tourism dollars or historical organizations that would make keeping or restoring many of these ruins feasible and even profitable, most are soon to be only memories or mere shadows of what they are now. This is particularly so in the countryside; in bigger communities, ruins have higher visibility, while in the country they’re rarely remarked upon or protected at all.
I’ve been traveling to Haiti since 1978 in a variety of capacities, and I’ve seen the same sites slowly disappear. I have a particular interest in the colonial period of Haiti, as I did my master’s thesis at Brown University on the effect of early writing about the Haitian Revolution on pre-Civil War American writing.
Of course—and unfortunately, the majority of Haitian history can not be seen in physical ruins. The majority of actors of Haitian life didn’t live in big forts or sugar mills. I hope, however, that seeing these ruins can give an idea of the lives of both the wealthy and the oppressed, if only as seen through the instruments of their own oppression.
I try to get to Haiti as often as possible and am always in search of new sites to photograph. Please send on ideas, corrections, additions, etc. Additionally, I have more information and pictures on all sites, so please contact me if you are interested in a particular place.
Thanks to my many guides over the years, including (I’m sure I’m forgetting many): the contributors to Windows on Haiti and the Bob Corbett list (including Yves, John, Deb, Eugene, Lois, Tim, Michael, and Michelle), Benoit Du Kerlange (in St Louis du Sud), Pierre Jean Eloge and Elis Idovick (in Carradeux), Drew Kutschenreuter (everywhere), Hyppolite Roosevelt, Sulmé Jean and everyone at Klédev/Chedev (in Port-au-Prince), Walter Marcelin and Maxine (in Camp Gerrard). I was able to use a generous Kenan grant from Phillips Academy Andover (where I’m an English instructor) to travel around the country in the summer of 2007. A special thanks to Chantal Laroche who took me around for an entire day all over the northern plain. Another special thanks to Kesler Pierre whose own pictures inspired me, took me to Carradeux, and welcomed me into his home. My deepest thanks to Michael Curci, who decided it was a good idea to take his toddlers with him to Haiti in the first place.