A review of La Gazette Royale, a digital archive of Haiti's early print culture, directed by Marlene Daut
La Gazette Royale
Marlene Daut, University of Virginia
Nathan Dize, Vanderbilt University
La Gazette Royale is a digital gathering of all of the known issues of two of Haiti's earliest newspapers, Gazette Officielle de l'état d'Hayti (1807-1811) and Gazette Royale d'Hayti (1813-1819), as well as the six versions of the Almanach Royal d'Hayti (1813-1820) issued during the reign of Henry Christophe (1807-1820). In the course of my research on the history of early Haiti's northern kingdom, I attempted to gather as many issues as possible of both versions of the Gazette and the almanacs. I soon learned, however, that no single library contains a complete collection, and that the various extant issues are scattered in a dozen archives across North America, Europe, and the Caribbean. Not only this, but of the 97 issues and 6 almanacs eventually located, only one original can be found in Haiti today. This means that the majority of these rare documents, precious relics of early Haitian statehood, are mostly inaccessible to the Haitian people themselves. The goal of this online archive is thus to repatriate, in digital form, these foundational materials of Haiti's early history and engage the Haitian public in the annotation, curation, and editing of these documents.
The most comprehensive collection of La Gazette Officielle de l’état d’Hayti and La Gazette Royale d’Hayti to appear in a single repository, these documents have been collected from archives located around the Atlantic world, including France, Haiti, England, Ireland, Denmark, and more than a half dozen U.S. states. This project is not solely designed to be an archive of these materials, however. It also proposes to take visitors on a digital journey through Haiti’s early print culture by providing brief descriptions and commentaries to accompany each publication. Some of these entries provide summaries of specific articles featured in that week’s newspaper; others call our attention to important concurrent historical circumstances; and still others point out significant individuals, laws, literary elements, or changes of print format that might help guide readers in their own exploration of these remarkable documents.
Built on the WordPress platform, the site uses only software that is necessary for the site to function as designed and facilitates ongoing development and updating across the range of our team members’ programming aptitudes. And using this software—such as our annotation feature that is powered by hypothes.is— allows for greater accessibility for our international users, primarily by limiting the use of images, which decreases the bandwidth necessary for the site to load efficiently.
La Gazette Royale is a digital archive that not only boasts the most comprehensive collection of two early Haitian periodicals—La Gazette Officielle de l'état d'Hayti and La Gazette Royale d'Hayti—but also offers a collective response to Michel-Rolph Trouillot's assertion that archives are an active process, that "archives assemble." During years of research for her monograph Baron de Vastey and the Origins of Black Atlantic Humanism, project director Marlene Daut gathered scanned and photographed copies of the Gazette Officielle, the Gazette Royale, and the six editions of the Almanach Royal d'Hayti issued by King Henry Christophe's royal press. She realized that no physical archive possessed a full run of any of these sources; La Gazette Royale fulfills this need. Gathering sources gleaned and shared by friends, colleagues, and institutions throughout the Atlantic world and North America, Daut has assembled an archive of early Haitian print available and accessible to more users than ever before.
The homepage of La Gazette Royale fittingly invites users to explore Haiti's early print culture, which can be done in many ways through the site. Facilitated by individual source descriptions, historical timelines for early Haitian history (1804-1820), and notes indicating the provenance of each document, La Gazette Royale provides users ranging from cultural enthusiasts to academics with various pathways for exploring the website's contents. Daut and Denice Groce, her research assistant at the Claremont Graduate University, have also collectively transcribed the entire archive of newspaper sources so that users can consult full-text versions of the site's contents without having to download each individual PDF. These transcriptions allow users, especially those who may have weaker or more precarious internet connections, access to low-bandwidth versions of the printed sources. Full-text annotations enable users to highlight and annotate the text once they register and create a hypothes.is account. Helpful instructions about how to begin annotating appear on the right side bar of each document page. Another way to promote engagement with the site's contents would be to provide downloadable, plain text versions of the full-text transcriptions.
La Gazette Royale is an ambitious project that understands concepts like access and preservation as processes, which, over time, "[combat] the kind of colonial rhetoric that usually surges through public discourses about Haiti." When archives assemble, too often are they made inaccessible to the communities for whom they hold the most symbolic power. By insisting on open access to professionally curated print sources from the period of early Haitian independence (1804-1820), Daut's project is an eloquent and decolonial response to paywalled newspaper databases that often require university affiliations or pricey institutional subscriptions. In its current phase of development, La Gazette Royale serves as an excellent tool for researchers capable of reading French. However, Daut makes clear in the project history description that the ultimate goal for the project is to exist as a public digital archive and index, fully translated into Haitian Creole and English and curated by the public, capable of informing new theories and models of collaborative digital archiving. The project is well into its second phase of development, with the upload of full transcriptions of the royal almanacs in Fall 2019, and La Gazette Royale continues to assemble, standing as a model for critical digital archive projects to come.
 Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 1995. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press, 52.
 Daut, Marlene. “About: La Gazette Royale d’Hayti.” La Gazette Royale d’Hayti. Accessed January 19, 2020.