On Friday, March 1st, the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) in conjunction with the Anthropology Department at NYU hosted the The Life and Work of Michel-Rolph Trouillot: A Symposium, an all-day event celebrating the life and work of prolific anthropologist and historian, Michel-Rolph Trouillot. Trouillot was born in Haiti in 1949 and immigrated to the US when he was nineteen, during the peak years of the Duvalier Regime. He would later go on to become a professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, with interests in ethnographic methodologies, historiography, and theory-building. Trouillot left behind a major body of work, among which most famous are Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, Haiti: State against Nation and Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World. This symposium brought together a diverse assortment of individuals ranging from intellectuals and academics to activists and students, all gathered to commemorate the remarkable accomplishments and contributions of Michel-Rolph Trouillot to the humanities and social sciences.
The all-day event boasted lively conversation and vigorous debate on topics ranging from Trouillot’s first book, Ti dife boulé sou Istwah Ayiti, to the politics of power, foreign aid in Haiti, and the duties of anthropology. The seminar opened up with an evocative performance piece by Gina Ulysse – “Gin Komandman, Gin Régélman, Gin Kod Retro Trouillot in Spokenword” – and seamlessly transitioned to a series of panel discussions with audience input in-between. As a special treat, guest speaker Mariana Past of Dickinson College released excerpts from her upcoming English translation of Ti dife boulé while Dahoud Andre of Lakou New York presented a recording of Michel-Rolph Trouillot singing. The seminar attracted former classmates and graduate students of Trouillot as well as those who knew him intimately, painting a picture of a man who was not just an academic, but also a singer, songwriter, activist, and humanitarian.
To quote the keynote speaker of the evening, Colin Dyan of Temple University, Michel-Rolph ‘RoRo’ Trouillot ‘was a transformative presence in multiple fields; anthropology, history, political economy, philosophy, and even in literature’. Trouillot spent his lifetime challenging fundamental assumptions of various disciplines, championing equity and integrity in academia and in larger society. He taught us to ‘read carefully, argue and disagree passionately, write respectfully, and laugh without being afraid – ever – of the bugbears of academia’. As his life and works were celebrated over the course of the day, so were the perspectives of the day’s eager participants assayed and reconstructed; in the true spirit of Trouillot, learning, questioning, and searching for the truth.
Benjamin Goh Chun Wei and Kavya Timmireddy are undergraduates at the College of Arts and Science at NYU