Michel-Rolph Trouillot (November 26, 1949 – July 5, 2012; PhD, Johns Hopkins 1985) was a Haitian academic and anthropologist. He was Professor of Anthropology and of Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. Trouillot was best known for his books Open the Social Science (1990), Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995), and Global Transformations (2003), which explored the origins and application of social science in academia and its implications in the world. Trouillot has been one of the most influential thinkers of Afro-Caribbean diaspora, because he developed wide-ranging academic work centered on Caribbean issues. Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall holds that “Trouillot was one of the most original and thoughtful voices in academia. His writings influenced scholars worldwide in many fields, from anthropology to history to Caribbean studies”.
Trouillot was born on November 26, 1949, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Trouillot's family included intellectuals, academics, and at least one judge. His father, Ernest Trouillot, a lawyer and professor at a prestigious lycee, hosted a television show about Haitian history as part of his academic contributions. His uncle, Henock Trouillot, was the director of the National Archives of Haiti, besides being a prolific writer and public historian. His family was also politically minded; Trouillot's stepmother, Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, a well-known lawyer and judge, was named interim president in 1990 as the country stabilized and prepared for the democratic elections.
Trouillot's life was marked by the personal experience of immigration and exile. Before beginning scholarly study, he was a songwriter and activist involved in political protest against the Duvalier dynasty in Haiti and against the American government's treatment of undocumented Haitian immigrants. In 1968, Trouillot left Haiti as part of the large wave of student activists fleeing the repression of the Duvalier dictatorship.
In 1971, Trouillot found refuge with his impoverished aunt in Brooklyn, New York. Trouillot's family lived in a basement and slept on the floor. Trouillot started rehearsals for a Haitian exile theater company, Tanbou Libète (Drum of Freedom), in his basement. Trouillot was convinced that theater could be used to instigate social change and alter the course of politics. In 1978, he joined his aunt in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and completed a bachelor's degree in Caribbean history and culture at Brooklyn College, while working as a taxi driver and participating in the political and cultural activism of the Haitian diaspora. In 1978, Trouillot left Brooklyn to enroll in the anthropology program at Johns Hopkins University, where he completed his Ph.D, and began his career as an anthropologist.
Trouillot joined the University of Chicago faculty in 1998 after serving as the Krieger/Eisenhower Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and director of the Institute for Global Studies in Culture, Power and History at Johns Hopkins University. Trouillot was one of the most original, disciplinary, innovative and thoughtful voices in academia because his theoretical frameworks expanded social science knowledge in Caribbean studies; his writings influenced scholars in many fields, from anthropology, sociology, to history to Caribbean studies. Trouillot's academic legacy explores sub-fields of the anthropology with regards to social sciences knowledge. As he explains in Global Transformations (2003), he viewed academic work as more than a simple search for facts: “What I want to know in this case is never merely an empirical fact, let alone what I could learn from someone else—from a book, for instance. It is the knowledge that I want to produce. It is what I want to say about this topic, this site, these people—the ‘burning questions’ I want to share even with myself as interlocutor.”
In the last days of his academic life, he had retired by chronic illness. Trouillot passed away in his home in Chicago in 2012, after a decade-long struggle to recover from a brain aneurism. He was 62 years old.
Trouillot was the author and co-author of a number of books. Trouillot published the first nonfiction book in Haitian Creole as an activist and undergraduate, Ti difé boulé sou istwa Ayiti (1977) (A Small Fire Burning on Haitian History), which attempts to shed knowledge and ignite new interpretations of Haitian history. His dissertation, which later became his second book, Peasants and Capital: Dominica in the World Economy (1988), focused on how peasants in Dominica dealt with the transformations of the global banana industry. He published Les racines historiques de l’état duvaliérien, which later appeared in English as Haiti: State Against Nation. The Origins and Legacies of Duvalierism (1990), which was an important book with regards to repression and legacy in Afro-Caribbean studies. Additionally, Trouillot published Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995), which has become a foundational text for both Haitian studies and history. Also, Trouillot was part of a distinguished international group of scholars to publish Open the Social Sciences (1996), which traces the history of the social sciences, describes the recent debates surrounding them, and discusses in what ways they can be intelligently restructured. Finally, Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World (2003), examines anthropology's historical underpinnings—its epistemic groundings and political consequences.
The Caribbean Philosophical Association awarded him the 2011 Frantz Fanon Lifetime Achievement Award for "the originality of his interrogations in the human sciences, especially anthropology and history, and his articulation of the importance and challenges of Haiti in contemporary discussions of freedom and reclamations of the past".
- 1977 Ti difé boulé sou Istoua Ayiti. New York: Koléksion Lakansièl.
- 1988 Peasants and Capital: Dominica in the World Economy. Johns Hopkins University Press.
- 1990 Haiti: State against Nation. The Origins and Legacy of Duvalierism. Monthly Review Press.
- 1995 Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Beacon Press.
- 2003 Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World. Palgrave.
- Harms, William (July 10, 2012). "Michel-Rolph Trouillot, scholar of Caribbean history, 1949-2012". University of Chicago News. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
- Woodson, Drexel G.; Williams, Brackette F. (2012). "In Memoriam Dr. Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1949–2012)". Caribbean Studies. 40 (1): 153–156. doi:10.1353/crb.2012.0010.
- "Décès de l'éminent intellectuel et universitaire : Michel-Rolph Trouillot". Haiti Press Network (in French). July 5, 2012. Retrieved March 7, 2019.
- Trouillot, Michel-Rolph (2003). Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0312295219.
- Bonilla, Yarimar (2013). "Burning Questions: The Life and Work of Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 1949–2012". NACLA Report on the Americas. 46 (1): 82–84. doi:10.1080/10714839.2013.11722019.
- Dubois, Laurent (2012). "Eloge Pour Michel-Rolph Trouillot". Transition (109): 21–32. doi:10.2979/transition.109.21. ISSN 0041-1191. JSTOR 10.2979/transition.109.21.
Trouillot was a luminous intellectual whose work transformed the fields of anthropology and history and spurred a wide range of intellectual work on Haiti.
- Sepinwall, Alyssa Goldstein (2013). "Still Unthinkable?: The Haitian Revolution and the Reception of Michel-Rolph Trouillot's Silencing the Past". Journal of Haitian Studies. 19 (2): 75–103. doi:10.1353/jhs.2013.0036. hdl:10211.3/196058.
- Bonilla, Yarimar (2014). "Remembering the Songwriter: The Life and Legacies of Michel-Rolph Trouillot". Cultural Dynamics. 26 (2): 163–172. doi:10.1177/0921374014526021.
- Dayan, Colin (July 18, 2012). "Remembering Trouillot". Boston Review. Retrieved April 18, 2019.
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