The Louverture project

Image of ToussaintI have been been looking for resources on the relationship between Americas’ first war (the Tripolitan War from 1801-1805) in North Africa and the Haitian revolution. While I am still searching for the historical connection, I found a very interesting ‘academic’ project using a wiki and blog to open up the historical narrative of the Haitian revolution to a larger online community. The Louverture Project understands its marriage of the narrative of this important revolution for liberation with technology as follows:

One proposed feature of The Louverture Project is the development of a historical narrative to provide context for the encyclopedic collection of facts on the site. The Revolution Will Be Forgotten is a work in progress, a popular history of the events of 1791-1804 and their effects on the world at large. Readers of the online narrative will have the freedom to read the text on its own, or to explore the ideas, concepts, and facts referenced in the text in varying levels of detail. Of course, TLP will also function as a fully-searchable online resource for a wide range of Haiti-related historical material.

Though we’re starting out with a focus on the Revolutionary Period of Haitian history, it’s not easy to tell exactly when, or if, the effects of that revolution ended. Therefore, the scope of the site is bound to expand as more contributors come online. Be bold in adding to and editing the site. Let it be l’ouverture “the opening” to knowledge and understanding of a fascinating, important, and too-long ignored piece of world history.

The intersection of popular histories and social networking technologies seems to be a truly important academic and cultural development that takes the wikipedia model and focuses it upon an in-depth examination of specific moments of, in this case, history (but why not music, literature, art, biology, chemistry, etc.?). The use of the wiki, and other social networking applications, as a repository for the inscription of a public memory that is neither unilateral or complete suggests an ongoing dialogue that depends upon community involvement and a willingness to explore and engage the intellectual and cultural moments that shape our worldview. Such a project, while it is certainly exposing itself to potential “errors”, opens up the composition of cultural memories to the diverse authorship of communities. The Louverture Project envisions the possibilities of technology to expand the horizons of understanding of cultural moments, practices, etc. both within and outside of institutional models.

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11 Responses to The Louverture project

  1. Gardner says:

    Very cool stuff. I do believe in errors, as you know, so I wouldn’t put them all in quotation marks, :-), but I do agree with what I believe to be your implicit point: that the wiki allows some assertions that might be characterized too hastily as errors to have time to work their way into the conversation and reveal their (true) scope of possibility.

  2. jimgroom says:


    Interesting how your use of “true” is linked with assessing the viewable space of potential or possibility – and when we talk about the possible we do have limits of what can and cannot be achieved. Yet, the impossible to me seems quite different from the false, or the not true. Just like the possible seems very different than the true. Now I am interpreting what you said, and by no means is this how you necessarily meant for me to understand it – I understand that. Nonethless, “(true) scope” suggests what you can really see? Or, perhaps, what you cannot see? Not necessarily making something’s absence false or erroneous, just not within your field of vision. Making the true scope a matter of the technology of seeing and how we are trained to see. Now, I don’t mean to be overly semantic here, but I think the ways in which words like true and error call up a system of beliefs and values is important to trace, for what we invest in these terms often defines them outside of their linguistic context.

    Given the nature of such a project as TLP, I think the idea of errors become less certain and important then the construction of a narrative that is both generative and reflective. The importance placed on truth or intellectual authority in regards to history seems to me less about factuals errors and more about conceptual models – which in and of themselves are always oscillating between the interpretation of a culture’s immediate moment as much as the impulse to recreate the cultural context of other pasts. Such a model, firmly based in the hermenuetic process, will be filled with inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and generalizations. So when I quote errors here it is not so much to say “I don’t believe in errors” – or “I dont believe in truth.”

    The very utterance of error and truth as all encompassing figures that are to be believed in or not seems to me a question for more prolonged and particular consideration. Nonetheless, a question immediately is raised for me – is the TLP project about truth? Is its greatest enemy error? I think that a cultural memory (which is implicitly premised on interpolation and interpretation) weaves tales that often fall outside of the historical record – making their certainty difficult if not impossible to prove. That said, do stories of the Haitain revolution (the “other” great independence movement in the Western Hemisphere of the 18th century) leave a trace that we still need to make sense of rather than relegate to the uncertain distinction of “truth” (just as liable to quotes as error, as I use it here).

  3. Matt says:

    Having been involved in a recent effort to get something onto wikipedia — the term “norgs,” which is a contraction of “news organizations,” and is meant to define what those news organizations need to be in an age of digital media — I can tell you that it is much harder for errors to appear on wiki site than you’d think. That’s true for wikipedia, at least.

    Even so, I think you’re right — as a social experiment, it’s fascinating — warts and all.

  4. Jim says:

    That is a wild debate about “norgs”. Who holds the keys to this deletion mechanism? For example, who put that warning sign on the Norgs page? Does Colin Kimbrell’s editorial decision outweigh those of others concerned with the term? Or is he just a commenter? Who decides the legitimacy of language in this arena? Is the power of this community distributed evenly? The quantifiable approach to measuring the existence of a word, through no other mechanism than google no less, seems absurd to say the least. Your questions about the threshhold of legitinmacy by which a word becomes “official” is right on.

    This argument about the authenticty of protologisms vs. neologisms seems very unconvincing More than about the idea of errors on wikipedia, this discussion centers around controlling the language – as if it were a possibility!

  5. Mikhail says:

    I recently posted this entry on my late father-in-law on wikipedia. I expected it to be taken down on the basis that someone would deem him not enough of a somebody to have his own wikipedia entry. It’s still there.

    Over the course of the last month or so since I posted the article, I have been the only person to make any substantive changes or additions to the content. Since my father-in-law was not so famous as to have lots of people argue about the details of his life and since so many of the details I included are pretty darned difficult to verify or refute, it seems as though any errors I’ve made will stick as fact. The inclusion in wikipedia of something like “norgs” is much easier to challenge than a biography of a guy whose long and varied career in TV and theater makes him seem just famous enough to be remembered and not famous enough to have his bio picked apart for factual errors by the self-styled wikiwatchdogs.

  6. Matt says:

    @Jim — exactly. I have to say — as much as I hated the self-styled wiki editors during the debate, I found myself agreeing with them. It was telling that not a single person who wasn’t already involved in the norgs conference spoke up for it.

    To answer your specific questions:

    Who holds the keys to this deletion mechanism? For example, who put that warning sign on the Norgs page?

    first of all, anyone can become an editor of Wikipedia simply by participating in it. Those who are more active can get promoted to “administrator” level, which gives them the ability to flag articles for deletion. That’s what happened in the case of norgs — a random editor saw it and flagged it.

    Does Colin Kimbrell’s editorial decision outweigh those of others concerned with the term?

    Yes. By dint of his involvement with wikipedia, he is empowered to make the final decision.

    Here is one of the most fascinating things about this whole episode to me. When an administrator but that big ole warning on top of the page, I wrote to him to ask him why he did that. Here was his response:

    “Hi! The template that I added to the AfD page is simply a standard template that states the truth: AfD discussions are not votes, and the closing administrator is likely to place more weight on the opinions of those who have contributed a lot to wikipedia than new users. This template is often added to AfD discussions when it seems that new users are treating it as a vote to make them aware that Wikipedia is not a democracy.”

    Follow that link — it explains a lot about Wikipedia. Fascinating stuff.

    @Mikhail — cool! Nicely done.

  7. jimgroom says:

    Fascinating set of guidelines indeed, how do you understand this idea of ruling by consensus – is the consensus for this page on Norgs a matter of an administrator flagging the info as questionable, or are there clearly defined “political/philosphical” positions to this question that are taking shape here. Also, is the lack of being “flagged,” a la Jeremiah’s page, a matter of his not creating a new word or concept, but rather describing the biographical elements of someone’s life? The faultlines of wikipedia seem quite interesting, for the administrators are in a position of flagging, monitoring, and perhaps impeding the flow of language. The editorial process is nothing new, but the wikipedia’s control and responsibility for the management of new words and ideas opens up a really interesting and complex frontier for all of us.

  8. Matt says:

    Here’s a post about wikipedia that captures the ironies of both my and Mikhail’s experience.

  9. Jim – I’m pleased that you discovered The Louverture Project and found it worth remarking on. We’re going to start on that narrative soon… really!

    For what it’s worth, the editorial duties of a small wiki such as TLP encompass a far different set of problems than Wikipedia. My duties consist mostly of removing spam, maintaining the software, and providing the hosting. For me, that simplicity makes the wiki a perfect vehicle for collaborating on a reference project such as this.

    We do have the problem of ensuring accuracy. I’m not an expert in Haitian history by any means; I’m an informed amateur. Nor do I have a large enough group of expert contributors to catch the pernicious inaccuracies that are bound to crop up. I’ve tried to address this by establishing the practice of including references with each article. If there’s ever a serious factual dispute, the hope is that at least we’ll be able to trace any assertions to their source. But the fact is that our community will have to grow before we have the robust participation that makes wikis work best.

  10. jimgroom says:


    Thanks for commenting on bavatuesdays. I discovered your project while doing research for my dissertation, and I was really impressed with how you are using the mediawiki to open up a more expansive community surrounding some extremely important questions about the Haitian Revolution. And while this technology may not be available to millions of people whose perspecctive is integral to such a narrative, creating a space for a community to contribute to such a project is forward-thinking, necessary and important. I, for one, lived in Brooklyn for some time, and came into contact with hundreds of children of Haitains emigres (having taught at Clara Barton in Crown Heights) whose families fled or were driven out of Haiti -unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence. Yet, the ability for such a community to trace these experiences about an island they left for a wide-spectrum of economic, political, and social reasons is, indeed, uncommon. This project could potentially integrate thousands of voices from all over the globe: a virtual collective-history in a radically new hypertextual form made easy with the wiki. I, for one, think you are on to something really important – and if you wait long enough and prove patient the community will begin to form, for these tools are not only the diversions of the wealthy members of the Western world, their scope – like the merchant mariner in the 18th and 19th century ‘Black Atlantic,’ incorporates many different worlds in a variety of heretofore unfathomed ways.

  11. Sincerely, what you should be talking about is not the past history or the influence of the haitian revolution to anything but how to help this nation to get out of the poverty. the guilt of this atrocity belongs to the same american and the french goverment ,they should pay to haity all what the have taken out of it. I invite you to have a chat about that, an open a forum where the people can express their ideas about the matter and possible solutions.

    I am from the Dom. Rep. and I really would like france and the US to do something. Because they have produced today’s situation. They have left the haitians without democracy and peace since the first and dramatic invasion of 1915. Please we the dominicans feel bad about the haitians because they had a beautiful side of the island. But due to the lack of care of the environment and the very poverty, they have destroyed their natural resources, but Quisqueya is beatiful is my half of island. And Is my desire that someday the haitians could live in a better country. HELP HAITY!

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