Claire Antone Payton, Ph.D.

As a Caribbean historian with expertise in Haiti, I use geography, material culture, and urban planning to analyze modern Caribbean and Latin American history.  I defended my Ph.D. at Duke University in March 2018. This fall, I will be joining the UVA community as a postdoctoral fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African and African American Studies.

My manuscript, “The City and the State: Construction and the Politics of Dictatorship in Haiti (1957-1986),” charts a new political history of urbanization and state-building in the Caribbean. By intertwining these themes, my research demonstrates that the Port-au-Prince’s built environment operated as an interface between material and political forms that transformed the dynamics of both. I investigate the social underpinnings of the city’s legal existence, the origins of highly segregated residential neighborhoods, and the politics of its transportation infrastructure, and the relationship between urbanization and Duvalierist kleptocracy.

I’ve also used oral history to document the lived experience of urban transformation, recording more than 100 interviews with survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince. One of the most intimate collections of documentation on the disaster and its aftermath, the Haiti Memory Project has been cited in numerous accounts of the earthquake and has been used widely as a pedagogical resource in classrooms. I have written about the Haiti Memory Project in the Oral History Review and in a book chapter in the recently published volume Remembrance: Loss, Hope, Recovery after the Earthquake in Haiti


Funded in part by a Fulbright-Hays fellowship, my dissertation, “The City and the State: Construction and the Politics of Dictatorship in Haiti (1957-1986),” charts a new urban history of the modern Caribbean. The Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, like cities across the Global South, experienced a dramatic acceleration of urban growth beginning in the mid-20th century. In this same period, Haiti endured thirty years of the brutal Duvalier dictatorship, a major node of Cold War conflict in the Caribbean. My research, based on six years of research in archives in Haiti, France, Canada, and the United States, traces construction and urban planning through a tangled web of transnational influences that bound international development together with authoritarianism in shaping the city’s explosive transformation. By analyzing the global dynamics underpinning the creation of material space, my research provides a case study of the political production of urban environmental vulnerability.

The Duvalier regime’s early consolidation of power aligned with American Cold War imperatives in slum clearance projects that used bulldozers to break up politically active radical communities. In the wake of the Cuban Revolution, it leveraged anti-communist fervor seek American funding to construct an airport at a time when the regional hegemon publically distanced itself from the dictatorship’s increasing domestic use of paramilitary violence. In the 1970s, the Duvalier regime sought to integrated Haiti into the global economy with urban-based economic strategies that fueled urban migration and uncontrolled development, a geographic dynamic that threated poor waterfront neighborhoods with increased flooding and erosion. When, in the late 1970s, ascendant multilateral financial institutions used the dictatorship’s dependency on international aid to demand an end to kleptocracy, regime officials tried to pivot by building a new infrastructure of corruption around domestic industries associated with urbanization, such as cement. Embedded in material space, the enduring contradictions of the Cold War Caribbean contributed to a total failure of the built environment when, in January 2010, Port-au-Prince collapsed in a massive earthquake.



“The City and the State: Construction and the Politics of Dictatorship in Haiti,” Duke University.

Refereed Journal Articles

“Vodou and Protestantism, Faith and Survival: The Contest over the Spiritual Meaning of the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti.” Oral History Review 40, no. 2 (September 2013): 231–50.

Book Chapters
“‘After They Beat Us They Are Like Dogs at Our Feet’: An Oral History of Vulnerability and Violence in Post-Earthquake Haiti.” In Remembrance: Loss, Hope, Recovery after the Earthquake in Haiti, edited by Nadège T. Clitandre, Claudine Michel, Marlène Racine-Toussaint, and Florence Bellande Robertson. Santa Barbara: Center for Black Studies Research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, 2016.

Book Reviews

“Mark Schuller, Humanitarian aftershocks in Haiti” Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies / Revue Canadienne Des études Latino-Américaines et Caraïbes 42, no. 1 (January 2, 2017): 115–16.

Web-Based Publications


“Case Study: The Haiti Memory Project”
Oral History in the Digital Age

Other Publications


“On Moral Debt in Haiti,” NACLA Report on the Americas 49 no. 01 (April 2017) 64-70.


Georges Anglade. “Atlas Critique of Haïti;” Jean Price Mars, “La vocation de l’élite;” Victor Schoelcher. “Colonies étrangères et Haiti: Résultats de L’emancipation Anglaise;” “French Royal Ordinance of 1825.” In The Haiti Reader, edited by Laurent Dubois, Kaiama L. Glover, Nadève Ménard, Millery Polyne, and Chantal Verna, translated by Claire Antone Payton. Durham: Duke University Press, forthcoming.

The Haiti Memory Project

The Haiti Memory Project is an online archival collection of first-person testimonies of survivors of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. They are publically available online through the Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky.

I created this collection while living in Port-au-Prince between June and December 2010.

I’ve written widely about the HMP, including an article in Oral History Review and a book chapter in the 2016 volume Remembrance: Loss, Hope, Recovery after the Earthquake in Haiti, edited by Nadège T. Clitandre, Claudine Michel, Marlène Racine-Toussaint, and Florence Bellande Robertson.