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.  Currently, I’m a postdoctoral fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African and African American Studies at the University of Virginia.

I’m working on developing my manuscript, “And We Will Be Devoured: Construction, Destruction, and Dictatorship in Haiti”, which charts a new political, material, and environmental history of urbanization in the modern Caribbean. It reinterprets Port-au-Prince’s twentieth-century material growth as a series of political, economic, cultural and discursive conflicts over the built environment. These conflicts, I argue, were central to the consolidation and perpetuation of authoritarian rule in Haiti.

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 recently 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.


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.



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

“In Moral Debt to 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.