Beyond the Transatlantic: Profile of Visiting Graduate Student Allen Kim
A history doctoral candidate at Princeton University, Allen Kim traveled all the way to the Haiti Lab this spring semester where he worked on his dissertation and took a course in Haitian Creole.
For his dissertation, Kim is studying the political and intellectual history of Duvalier-era Haiti (1957-1971) with a special focus on the transnational and diasporic dialogues that linked Haiti with North America, the wider Caribbean, and parts of postcolonial Africa.
His interest in Haitian history began as an undergraduate sophomore after he read The Black Jacobins by Trinidadian author C.L.R. James, a narrative of the 1791-1804 Haitian Revolution.
“I suppose it had a subliminal effect on my studies because later in graduate school my interest in studying alternative forms of political modernity outside the familiar network of 19th century Europe and its empire led me back to the western hemisphere and Haiti,” he says.
Last fall, Kim traveled to Haiti where he conducted archival research at the Bibliothèque Nationale and the library at the Institution Saint-Louis de Gonzague in Port-au-Prince.
At the Haiti lab this spring, Kim has both expanded his knowledge of Haitian Creole and used this knowledge to reassess the relationship between language and politics. Kim says the course on Haitian Creole has given him a broader understanding of the linguistic factors that have influenced the political landscape of Haiti.
“The course has improved my spoken expression tremendously and has sensitized me to the subtle cultural politics of language that inform the geopolitical and local contexts where Creole is used in relation to French” he says.
Kim’s experience at the Haiti lab has sparked an interest in the translation of early Creole texts from early and mid 20th century Haiti. The Haiti Lab, he says, has ventured beyond traditional subfields that center on 18th and 19th century history. He is drawn by the lab’s ability to mold the geographical study of Haiti with other disciplines such as health and policy.
Reflecting on his experience at the lab, Kim says, “The conceptual suppleness that the lab invites has inspired me to expand my interpretive scope of Haiti to include the wider Caribbean and the postcolonial world, and to think more productively about how the historical method can interrogate and in turn be informed by literary and theoretical approaches.”
Image: Partial view of "Island. Boats" by Julia Gaffield, part of Haiti: History Embedded in Amber