Making The Black Jacobins

C. L. R. James and the Drama of History

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 4 illustrations Published: September 2019

Author: Rachel Douglas

Caribbean Studies, Cultural Studies, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

C. L. R. James's The Black Jacobins remains one of the great works of the twentieth century and the cornerstone of Haitian revolutionary studies. In Making The Black Jacobins, Rachel Douglas traces the genesis, transformation, and afterlives of James's landmark work across the decades from the 1930s on. Examining the 1938 and 1963 editions of The Black Jacobins, the 1967 play of the same name, and James's 1936 play, Toussaint Louverture—as well as manuscripts, notes, interviews, and other texts—Douglas shows how James continuously rewrote and revised his history of the Haitian Revolution as his politics and engagement with Marxism evolved. She also points to the vital significance theater played in James's work and how it influenced his views of history. Douglas shows The Black Jacobins to be a palimpsest, its successive layers of rewriting renewing its call to new generations.


“Among Rachel Douglas's great accomplishments is her analysis of The Black Jacobins as the keystone in the larger arc of C. L. R. James's complex and ever-evolving Marxism, taking seriously his own estimation of his intellectual accomplishments. Her extraordinary book makes a pivotal contribution to our understanding of James's masterpiece and is essential reading for all those engaged with understanding the Haitian Revolution and the decisive place of The Black Jacobins in its interpretation.” — Nick Nesbitt, author of Caribbean Critique: Antillean Critical Theory from Toussaint to Glissant

“Rachel Douglas takes readers on a fascinating journey as she details how C. L. R. James rewrote and rethought The Black Jacobins over the course of his life. Scholars of James as well as specialists in Caribbean history and theater will be forever in debt to Douglas for her careful archival research, her interviews with key figures, and the nuggets of gold she uncovered in the process.” — Christian Høgsbjerg, coeditor of The Black Jacobins Reader

"This study is a must read for scholars interested in Caribbean and world history, particularly those interested in James's 'bottom-up history' and how his constant reworking of political thought found expression in his histories of the Haitian Revolution." — K. R. Shaffer, Choice

"Douglas’s artful comparisons of James’s multiple writings and rewritings of the drama of the Haitian Revolution shows how his thinking evolved over the years; and how he eventually developed the strong conviction that it was the story of the 'two thousand leaders' of the Revolution that demanded telling, not simply that of one great man. In so doing, Douglas reveals not just James’s intellectual journey, but also how he worked (but perhaps failed) to integrate this new perspective into both his fictional and nonfictional writing." — Marlene L. Daut, Public Books

“In the same way that there are poets’ poets and communists’ communists, Rachel Douglas is a C.L.R. James scholar’s C.L.R. James scholar. Making the Black Jacobins synthesises the many versions and marginalia of James’ work on the Haitian Revolution. … [I]t has done scholars of Caribbean revolutionary history an immense service.”

— Jackqueline Frost, Radical Philosophy

“As new scholarship reshapes the picture of the Haitian Revolution, it raises the question of the status of older historiography on the subject. Rachel Douglas’s Making 'The Black Jacobins' shows that there is still much to be said about the most widely-read work on the subject, even if its content is now outdated. The most thought-provoking aspect of Douglas’s analysis is the connection she draws between James’s history writing and the plays about the same subject to which he devoted equal effort.” — Jeremy D. Popkin, Slavery & Abolition

“In Making The Black Jacobins, Rachel Douglas examines the formation of James’s groundbreaking work on the Haitian Revolution, exploring its genesis, transformations and afterlives through its different texts, stagings and editions.  . . . [T]his book is a welcome addition to scholarship on James and offers a thoughtful approach to the relationship between Marxist theory and historical analysis." — Scott Timcke, LSE Review of Books

“First published in 1938, C. L. R. James’s The Black Jacobins transformed the historiography of slavery studies, showing how, out from under the shadow of white supremacy and empire, Black people, with little formal education, could organize a social revolution equal to the Russian and French revolutions…. Rachel Douglas’s The Making of the Black Jacobins reveals James wrote and re-wrote his classic narrative of the Haitian Revolution, as both history and theatre, in ways that have gone unrecognized until now.” — Matthew Quest, Common Reader

“This is a short book with a large purview. Rachel Douglas has thrown her net wide and has offered those with a serious interest in C.L.R. James a catch that is unusually rich…. Every research library with an interest in decolonization, Caribbean history and historiography, Marxist theory and practice, and twentieth-century theater will want to acquire this book. Its archival scope alone assures that it will not soon be equaled, much less surpassed.” — A. James Arnold, New West Indian Guide


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Price: $27.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Rachel Douglas is Lecturer in French and Comparative Literature at the University of Glasgow and author of Frankétienne and Rewriting: A Work in Progress.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
1. Toussaint Louverture Takes Center Stage: The 1930s  29
2. Making History: The Black Jacobins (1938)  69
3. Rewriting History: The Black Jacobins (1963)  102
4. Reshaping the Past as Drama (1967)  133
5. Afterlives of The Black Jacobins  178
Notes  215
Bibliography  265
Index  295
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

A 2020 Choice Magazine Outstanding Academic Title

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-0487-5 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-0427-1