I earned my doctorate in History from Duke University in 2018. My research draws from environmental studies, urban studies, material culture, geographic theory, and political history to build a new history of urbanization and state-building in the modern Caribbean. Historical literature on the Caribbean remains framed by scholarship that reveals how the transition from slavery to freedom in the nineteenth century formed unique peasantries. But like the rest of the world, the region has since been altered by structural transformations that privilege explosive urban growth. For example, today, more than a third of Haiti’s population lives in the metropolitan area of the capital city, Port-au-Prince. My intellectual agenda takes as a point of departure that new questions and methods are needed to fully grapple with the implications of this immense change.
While at the Woodson Institute, I will be revising and expanding my manuscript, tentatively titled “‘And We Will Be Devoured’: Construction and the Politics of Dictatorship in Haiti (1957-1986).” This project uses extensive, multi-sited archival research to build a case study of the relationships between two defining themes of the twentieth century: rapid urbanization and authoritarianism. I show how the transformation of the urban landscape of the capital, Port-au-Prince, reflected a consolidation and expression of broader processes that also underpinned the Duvalier regime (1957-1986). The city’s built environment operated as an interface between material and political forms that transformed the dynamics of both. I trace this theme through a range of construction and urban planning practices, including demolition of low-income neighborhoods, construction of transportation infrastructure, state responses to environmental hazards, and the management of the cement economy. I show how the regime governed city space for the benefit of a small elite, making decisions that helped it gain and maintain its grip on power. But these decisions contributed to the formation a precarious landscape of inequality that would haunt the world when, in January 2010, Port-au-Prince collapsed in a deadly earthquake