An Analysis of C.L.R. James's The Black Jacobins
Today we take it for granted that history is much more than the story of great men and the elites from which they spring. Other forms of history – the histories of gender, class, rebellion and nonconformity – add much-needed context and color to our understanding of the past. But this has not always been so. In CLR James’s The Black Jacobins, we have one of the earliest, and most defining, examples of how ‘history from below’ ought to be written.
James's approach is based on his need to resolve two central problems: to understand why the Haitian slave revolt was the only example of a successful slave rebellion in history, and also to grasp the ways in which its history was intertwined with the history of the French Revolution. The book's originality, and its value, rests on its author's ability to ask and answer productive questions of this sort, and in the creativity with which he proved able to generate new hypotheses as a result. As any enduring work of history must be, The Black Jacobins is rooted in sound archival research – but its true greatness lies in the originality of James's approach.
Ways in to the Text
Who was C.L.R. James?
What does The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution Say?
Why does The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution Matter?
Section 1: Influences
Module 1: The Author and the Historical Context
Module 2: Academic Context
Module 3: The Problem
Module 4: The Author's Contribution
Section 2: Ideas
Module 5: Main Ideas
Module 6: Secondary Ideas
Module 7: Achievement
Module 8: Place in the Author's Work
Section 3: Impact
Module 9: The First Responses
Module 10: The Evolving Debate
Module 11: Impact and Influence Today
Module 12: Where Next?
Glossary of Terms
People Mentioned in the Text