Claire Antone Payton, Ph.D.


I’m a historian who analyzes material urban life to uncover the social, political and environmental history of the modern Caribbean and Latin America. I defended my Ph.D. at Duke University in March 2018. Currently, I’m a postdoctoral fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia. My research analyzes a history of construction in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to explore urgent questions about the relationship between politics, the built environment, and the historical foundations of disaster.

I’ve begun to work on a book project, which I’ve tentatively titled And We Will Be Devoured: Construction, Destruction, and Dictatorship in Haiti. The book uses the Haitian 2010 earthquake as a point of departure for a deep historical exploration of space, power, and politics in the modern Caribbean. I focus on how social vulnerabilities and physical vulnerabilities melded together through the physical production Port-au-Prince’s cityscape across the era of the Duvalier dictatorship (1957-1986). I analyze the city’s culture of building through interrogations of politics and social dynamics of city planning, construction, environmental management, and housing. Through these interwoven themes, I reveal how the city’s built environment was imbued with the social and political dynamics of its production. In the process, the book also uses urban history to create a new accounting of the little-understood Duvalier era.

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

I spoke about my research at the Woodson Institute’s “Meet the Fellows” event. Click on the video below to watch a 5-minute presentation introducing my research.

Research


Two major transformations indelibly marked Haiti in the second half of the twentieth century: explosive urban growth fueled by rural-to-urban migration and the consolidation of state power into the hands of the Duvalier regime, an autocratic nationalist government that ruled between 1957 and 1986. My research, funded in part by a Fulbright-Hays DDRA fellowship, brings these themes into conversation for the first time. Drawing on extensive archival research, I examine the rise and fall of the dictatorship through its relationship to the shifting built environment of the capital. I track the creation, destruction, and management of material and abstract urban spaces—from airports and aquifers to the political economy of cement. My analysis of these sites shows how the daily politics of authoritarianism were infused with the dynamics of rapid demographic and geographic change. The study brings to light the previously-unknown architects, planners, developers, investors, and local and international officials who enacted, contested, and revised the dictatorship’s ideological visions and pragmatic imperatives. Ultimately, the book exposes how political and economic vulnerabilities of Haiti—within the context of the Caribbean Cold War—manifested physically through the construction of a dangerous landscape of inequality, one that would haunt the world when, in January 2010, the city collapsed in a deadly earthquake.

Publications


Dissertation 
2018

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

Refereed Journal Articles
2013

“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

Forthcoming

“Concrete Kleptocracy: Building the Foundations of Disaster in Haiti” in Critical Disaster Studies.” In Critical Disaster Studies: Rethinking Disaster, Vulnerability, and Risk, Jacob Remes and Andy Horowitz, eds. Under review at Penn Press.

2016

“‘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

2019

Greg Beckett, There Is No More Haiti: Life and Death in Port-au-Prince, reviewed for H-Haiti (August 2019).

2017

“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
2012

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

Other Publications

2019

“Building Corruption in Haiti.” NACLA Report on the Americas 51, no. 2 (April 3, 2019): 182–87.

2017

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

Translation

Forthcoming
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.

Teaching


As a scholar trained in the fields of both the colonial French Atlantic World and the modern Caribbean and Latin American history, I take a comparative, transnational approach to designing courses. I can teach across multiple fields, including slavery and freedom in the Atlantic World, histories of colonialism and decolonization, Latin American and Caribbean history, African diasporic studies, disaster studies, and urban history in the global south.  I am trained in oral history and digital history and can design methodological courses on these as well.

What the Students are Saying: 

2019 Intro to Caribbean Studies

Here’s the syllabus
  • “I loved this course more than I can express. Dr. Payton demonstrated an immense knowledge and passion for the history, culture, peoples, and politics of the Caribbean. The themes that we discussed really contextualized the importance of power and history, and how systems of inequality and discrimination can leave deep and lasting legacies. I cannot recommend this class enough, or express my gratitude to Dr. Payton enough for providing this class and space for learning.”

  • “This was my favorite class this semester and I learned so much and appreciate the efforts made by Professor Payton to help us learn the information from first hand speakers, readings and insightful class discussions”

  • “Prof. Payton did a great job with the task of creating a class that could encompass the most important themes about the Caribbean region. She is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about the region, especially Haiti. I loved this class.”

2016 Intro to Contemporary Latin America

  • “You were so kind and extremely open to any towards of remark during class. I never felt like I would be judged negatively for my comments, and this is so appreciated as an undergraduate student! Having the liberty to speak and say thoughts without fear is huge!! I also believe your knowledge in general about humanity really added to the class as a whole. We were able to dig into questions that are not normally discussed in classes.”

  • “Great moderator! Loved your enthusiasm of Haiti and your focus on teaching us how to think and write analytically.”

2015 Comparative Approaches to Global Issues (TA)

  • “Large group discussions that occured in [Claire’s] class were extremely interesting and engaging. Students were able to discuss and argue competing ideas and develop in depth ideas based on the readings. I only wish all the class days were like this.”

  • “Claire was awesome! Knowledgeable on the subject matter and was willing to listen to our opinions. She’s great at fostering an interactive environment. There was hardly any awkward silence.”

  • “I found Claire to be extremely helpful and readily available whenever I reached out for assistance. Furthermore, she was able to explain the readings and core concepts very well, facilitating conversations that incorporated the material and applied it well to “real world” situations.”

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.