The Black Jacobins Reader

Book Pages: 464 Illustrations: 3 illustrations Published: January 2017

Caribbean Studies, History > World History, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

Containing a wealth of new scholarship and rare primary documents, The Black Jacobins Reader provides a comprehensive analysis of C. L. R. James's classic history of the Haitian Revolution. In addition to considering the book's literary qualities and its role in James's emergence as a writer and thinker, the contributors discuss its production, context, and enduring importance in relation to debates about decolonization, globalization, postcolonialism, and the emergence of neocolonial modernity. The Reader also includes the reflections of activists and novelists on the book's influence and a transcript of James's 1970 interview with Studs Terkel.
Contributors. Mumia Abu-Jamal, David Austin, Madison Smartt Bell, Anthony Bogues, John H. Bracey Jr., Rachel Douglas, Laurent Dubois, Claudius K. Fergus, Carolyn E. Fick, Charles Forsdick, Dan Georgakas, Robert A. Hill, Christian Høgsbjerg, Selma James, Pierre Naville, Nick Nesbitt, Aldon Lynn Nielsen, Matthew Quest, David M. Rudder, Bill Schwarz, David Scott, Russell Maroon Shoatz, Matthew J. Smith, Studs Terkel


"This book is a welcome contribution that can assist in ensuring that [C. L. R.] James continues to educate future generations of activists." — Brian Richardson, Socialist Review

"What the The Black Jacobins Reader accomplishes is a masterful dialogue not only with respect to The Black Jacobins itself, but with historical writing in general, bringing together some of the most notable voices in Haitian and Caribbean intellectual history to consider the incredible durability of James’s work. The Black Jacobins Reader also manages to stage this dialogue as one that is preoccupied with the ongoing predicament of our time – that of asking the question, time and again: what is freedom?" — Bedour Alagraa, Contemporary Political Theory

"Provides the most thorough and wide-ranging study of James’s seminal text to date.... The Reader reminds us of the audacity of James’s text in its time and the inspiration it provided to generations of readers...." — Kate Quinn, French Studies

“First, and most importantly, the Reader offers a documentary history of how The Black Jacobins has been studied and how it helped to inspire new knowledge and new movements. Second, the Reader persistently portrays James’s meditations on the Haitian Revolution as contributions to the philosophy of history.” — Jesse Olsavsky, The Black Scholar

"Containing rare primary materials, new scholarship, and personal reflections from an impressive array of activists, writers, and scholars, The Black Jacobins Reader affirms the enduring relevance of James’s achievement. Forsdick and Høgsbjerg’s Black Jacobins Reader stands as testament to the fact that some 80 years after its first publication, The Black Jacobins continues to inspire, challenge, and provoke." — Philip Kaisary, Slavery & Abolition

"This exhaustive collection of essays, reflections, and introductions to James’s epic treatment of the Haitian Revolution will be the authoritative companion to his history for decades to come. . . . An important contribution to postcolonial and Caribbean studies . . . A bracing and consequential collection." — Justin Rogers-Cooper, SX Salon

"The Black Jacobins Reader provides a wealth of bibliographical sources and historical documents (including a fascinating conversation between James and Studs Terkel about Black Jacobins), new scholarship, and reminiscences about James and the contexts in which Black Jacobins was used during the 1960s and 1970s. . . . The Black Jacobins Reader is an invaluable tool for contextualizing one of the great classics of the black Marxist tradition." — James Smethurst, Science & Society

“A sprawling compilation of essays, reflections, and other material…. The volume accomplishes perhaps its main goal: it asserts the continued significance of The Black Jacobins, making the case for the book to remain a crucial introduction to the Haitian Revolution and perhaps even to James’s wider, extensive body of work.” — Christienna Fryar, Journal of Contemporary History

"This is the most authoritative confirmation to date of the intellectual stature of C. L. R. James and the prophetic grandeur of his great classic, The Black Jacobins. Some eighty years after its first publication, readers of different generations and across a diversity of national origins document their admiration of the depth and spontaneity of James's analytical interpretation of the Haitian Revolution. It was the first and only example in modern history of a successful slave revolt when a population of enslaved Africans defeated three European armies and converted a slave plantation into the Independent Republic of Haiti. The nineteenth century had judged it inconceivable; and ever since it has survived a universal silence." — George Lamming

"The Black Jacobins, with its unforgettable story of Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution, is one of the great books of the twentieth century. The Black Jacobins Reader provides us with a rich selection of reflections on C. L. R. James's achievement and his own rethinkings over time. Whether understood as a cultural history of revolution before cultural history; a classic text for revolutionaries; a meditation on universal history; a pioneering Marxist analysis of the slave trade, slavery, and modern capitalism; an inspiration for generations of historians; an exploration of what it means to be 'West Indian'; a disruption of orthodox notions of historical temporality or a provocation to think about the relation between the past and the present; or indeed any combination of these; it is undoubtedly a book that continues to inspire many. Black activists in U.S. prisons, writers, and historians are amongst those who remind us, in different ways, of the power of a text such as this—one that wrote the history of a people supposedly without history." — Catherine Hall


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Charles Forsdick is James Barrow Professor of French at the University of Liverpool.

Christian Høgsbjerg is Teaching Fellow in Caribbean History at University College London's Institute of the Americas.

Robert A. Hill is Research Professor of History at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Foreword / Robert A. Hill  xiii
Haiti / David M. Rudder  xxi
Acknowledgments  xxiii
Introduction: Rethinking The Black Jacobins / Charles Forsdick and Christian Høgsbjerg  1
Part I. Personal Reflection
1. The Black Jacobins in Detroit: 1963 / Dan Georgakas  55
2. The Impact of C. L. R. James's The Black Jacobins / Mumia Abu-Jamal  58
3. C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins, and The Making of Haiti / Carolyn E. Fick  60
4. The Black Jacobins, Education, and Redemption / Russell Maroon Shoatz  70
5. The Black Jacobins, Past and Present / Selma James  73
Part II. The Haitian Revolution: Histories and Philosophies
6. Reading The Black Jacobins: Historical Perspectives / Laurent Dubois  87
7. Haiti and Historical Time / Bill Schwarz  93
8. The Theory of Haiti: The Black Jacobins and the Poetics of Universal History / David Scott  115
9. Fragments of a Universal History: Global Capital, Mass Revolution, and the Idea of Equality in The Black Jacobins / Nick Nesbitt  139
10. "We Are Slaves and Slaves Believe in Freedom": The Problematizing of Revolutionary Emancipation in The Black Jacobins / Claudius Fergus  162
11. "To Place Ourselves in History": The Haitian Revolution in British West Indies Thought before The Black Jacobins / Matthew J. Smith  178
Part III. The Black Jacobins: Texts and Contexts
12. The Black Jacobins and the Long Haitian Revolution: Archives, History, and the Writing of Revolution / Anthony Bogues  197
13. Refiguring Resistance: Historiography, Fiction, and the Afterlives of Toussaint Louverture / Charles Forsdick  215
14. On "Both Sides" of the Haitian Revolution? Rethinking Direct Democracy and National Liberation in The Black Jacobins / Matthew Quest  235
15. The Black Jacobins: A Revolutionary Study of Revolution, and of a Caribbean Revolution / David Austin  256
16. Making Drama our of the Haitian Revolution from Below: C. L. R. James's The Black Jacobins Play / Rachel Douglas  278
17. "On the Wings of Atalanta" / Aldon Lynn Nielsen  297
Part IV. Final Reflections
18. Afterword to The Black Jacobins's Italian Edition / Madison Smartt Bell  313
19. Introduction to the Cuban Edition of The Black Jacobins / John H. Bracey  322
Appendix 1. C. L. R. James and Studs Terkel Discuss The Black Jacobins on WFMT Radion (Chicago), 1970  329
Appendix 2. The Revolution in Theory / C. L. R. James  353
Appendix 3. Translator's Foreword by Pierre Naville to the 1949 / 1983 French Editions  367
Bibliography  383
Contributors  411
Index  415
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6201-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6184-8
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