Wednesday, September 26, 2012




       In January of 2010 an earthquake hit Haiti that killed somewhere between 60,000-316,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands. Overnight, news programs and internet sites blew up with stories about the island. They covered not only the immediate natural disaster but paraded every person that had ever looked sideways at Haiti to provide an opinion. Though Haiti is rarely front page news these days, it continues to pop up in news stories about the cholera epidemic, Hurricane Isaac, and the UN. Throughout, Haiti has been defined by terms such as diseased, evil, poverty stricken, lazy, and hopeless. Lots of people are involved in charities, NGOs, and mission trips to save Haiti. Reddit even organized some successful donations. Yet, few people really know much about actual Haiti. In a series of weekly posts and discussions I'd like to help change that.
       I plan to go through some of the major topics that I think are very misunderstood or just really interesting. The outline of my course is below, but I'm happy to adjust if anyone has specific requests. My first post will be Wednesday and the lesson will remain open for questions and discussion until next Wednesday when the subsequent lesson is posted.
  • History of Haiti - It is really more interesting (and messed up) than you'd think 
  • Vodou/Voodoo - Strong female leadership, it permits homosexuality, and no sin? No wonder Pat Robertson hates it. 
  • The People - Being Haitian is more than just being poor and living in a tent city. Learn about daily lives, gender, jobs, and relationships. 
  • The Republic of NGOs - The international presence in Haiti or in other words what happened to that $10 you texted after the earthquake? 
  • Top Hats, Skeletons, and Zombies - What to Haitians actually believe about the spirits of the dead and zombies? 
  • Haiti's Future - Hope, tourism, and education. What might actually help?
       This will be part of the new History of Ideas Academy courses. The idea is that scholars, experts, and academics can use this opportunity to teach about what they study in a format that is interesting and accessible to the average person. This week we'll start the first two courses: Haiti Today and Hindu Religion and Indian Mythology. I hope you'll follow both. This teaser is a chance to see what the course will offer, make comments, and request anything related to the topic that you're interested in. Once it begins you can follow the entire course or just check in on the week you find most interesting. You can check the right hand side of the HOI subreddit at any time to see what courses are going on.
       The format of my course will be a post each week on the relevant topic along with links to photos I've taken and suggestions for further reading. Then, just like a live lecture, the post will be open to questions and discussion on Reddit. But we'll stretch it over a few days so that both readers and I have time to respond. Please be sure to comment on the appropriate Reddit post so that we can hold the discussion within the History of Ideas subreddit
       And in case you're wondering, here are my credentials. I'm a PhD anthropology student working on Haitian Vodou (Voodoo) practitioners in Haiti and America. I already have a MA in anthropology and have spent the past four years working with Haitian Vodouisants and traveling to Haiti. Anthropology stresses a holistic approach meaning that to fully understand anything going on in a community you really need to look at history, economy, politics, religion, kinship, language, etc. in order to put it in context. Looking at just one aspect out of context can result in a flawed understanding of the situation and poor decisions if you're trying to fix it (as is evidenced by some of the UN, USAID, and NGO approaches in Haiti.) I believe that anthropological approaches can be truly beneficial for organizations that want to make a difference in Haiti. After all, you have to understand what is wrong before you can fix it. But more than that, Haiti is an interesting and beautiful place that is incredibly misrepresented in the popular media. Come learn about the first free black republic in the world, an island that was once the richest colony in the world, a complex and beautiful religion, and a fascinating culture.

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