In Memoriam, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 1949-2012

Michel-Rolph Trouillot–brilliant anthropologist, historian, inspiring thinker–passed away in 2012. His final book was Global Transformations: Anthropology and the Modern World. It was a devastating loss for anthropology, history, Haiti, all of us. This page links to tributes, memorials, and news. A separate page is dedicated to Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s bibliography. For a 2017 assessment of Trouillot’s contribution, see Teaching Trouillot by Elizabeth Ferry. For an ongoing attempt to bring Trouillot’s insights into anthropology’s moral optimism, see the Moral Optimism category of blog-posts.

Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1949-2012). Richard Price, American Anthropologist, December 2013

I once heard Rolph give a brilliant lecture about race to a class of aspiring Mormon missionaries to Haiti (at Brigham Young University), delivered spontaneously after the laptop with his prepared paper had been stolen en route. As he spoke passionately about the history of the country, he intermittently called their attention to his expensive shoes, his suit and tie, his watch, eyeglasses, moustache, baldness, and his university titles until, by the end of the hour, he stood before them “absolutely white.” It was a breathtaking lesson on the Haitian construction of race.
Professionally ambitious yet genuinely humble, Rolph Trouillot was passionate about truth yet mordantly and often surprisingly funny. In his all-too-brief time among us, he lived life to the fullest. He changed the way we think, challenging all of us to push the boundaries. He was, as Colin Dayan wrote, “a transformative presence” (2012). As he himself reminded readers (on the back cover of Trouillot 1986), he also wrote songs.

In Memoriam Dr. Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1949-2012), Drexel Woodson and Brackette Williams, Caribbean Studies, 40 (1), enero-junio, 2012, pp. 153-162

Debilitating aneurysms in January 2002 brought Rolph’s multifaceted research projects to an abrupt halt. Although he remained mentally alert and curious about worldly affairs for most of the following decade, he could not complete his most ambitious project, “The West.” The project, ranging from the Renaissance to the present, intended to combine a trenchant critique of European colonialism and Euro-American capitalism with a thorough investigation of possibilities for cultural creativity and constructive political-economic development for peoples too often considered the objects of world history or marginal to its main crosscurrents. An untimely death halted the restless movement of Rolph’s mind, silenced his voice, and stilled his pen. Yet his life and career will stand as models for genuinely multidisciplinary social inquiry as well as politically engaged scholarship for generations to come. On behalf of a grateful discipline, we say mèsi anpil and farewell to Professor Trouillot, understanding why he insisted that “The most lasting product of . . . [my intellectual and political] choices is my first book, Ti dife boule sou istoua Ayiti, a history of the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804” (Trouillot 1996).

Burning Questions: The Life and Work of Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 1949–2012, Yarimar Bonilla, 31 May 2013

Trouillot’s life and work make it difficult to peg him into a strict category. He was undeniably a “Haitian intellectual,” yet in many ways also an “American anthropologist” and a “public historian.” His writings and teachings will surely continue to influence generations of scholars to come. In 2011, he was awarded Frantz Fanon Lifetime Achievement Award by the Caribbean Philosophical Association in recognition of his academic legacy. The award seems fitting for someone who saw academic work as a vocation rather than as a career.

Remembering Trouillot, Colin Dayan, 18 July 2012

Michel-Rolph Trouillot died on July 5. I am still in shock. A transformative presence in multiple fields—anthropology (his main area), history, political economy, philosophy, and even literature—he redefined the meaning of scholarship. I remember his sustained assault on the celebrated uniqueness of Haiti; his hope long ago that the future of Haiti would be decided in the countryside; and the words, truer today than ever, describing Haiti as “the earliest testing ground for neo-colonialism.”

Michel-Rolph Trouillot: Une citadelle contre les silences de l’histoire, Josué Pr. Dahomey, 01 août 2012
L’œuvre anthropologique de Michel-Rolph Trouillot nous projette dans une traversée du miroir faisant advenir notre conscience de soi historique dans la clarté immédiate, néanmoins par la médiation d’un décryptage de maître.

In Memoriam: Michel-Rolph Trouillot, American Anthropological Association, 16 July 2012
With savage slots and cultural authorities multiplying in our post-civil-rights-colorblind-deaf-to-nuance world, Trouillot’s Silencing the Past and Global Transformations will long offer us means to move beyond “North Atlantic Fictions.” Building on his diligent efforts, out there somewhere, we may yet find the means to get control of, as he put it, “our contemporary arrogance, which overplays the uniqueness of our times,” and “may blind us to the dimensions of what happened before we were born” (2003:29).
Note: Thank you to the American Anthropological Association for posting this, and thanks to AAA President Leith Mullings and Damon Dozier, Director of Public Affairs, for coordinating and publishing. This was collaboratively written, with special credit to Brackette Williams for orienting the theory and phrasings, and to Drexel Woodson for providing crucial information and edits.

Au revoir M. Trouillot!, Frantz Duval, 12 juillet 2012
En fait, ce n’est qu’à la mort du professeur Michel-Rolph Trouillot que plus d’un a découvert en lui l’auteur d’un des textes les plus forts et l’un des mieux écrits de toute cette série de pièces de résistance des années dures. . . . Anthropologue, historien, spécialiste des sciences sociales et auteur inspiré, le professeur Trouillot (1949-2012) nous laisse une belle œuvre et une moisson d’idées sur divers sujets.

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, scholar of Caribbean history, 1949-2012, William Harms, 10 July 2012
Michel-Rolph Trouillot, a professor of anthropology at UChicago and a leading authority on the dynamics of power across cultural boundaries, died July 5. He was 62. . . . Yarimar Bonilla, PhD’08, a former student of Trouillot and an assistant professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, said, “It’s hard to know how to mark the passing of someone who has so thoroughly transformed your life through both word and deed. Rolph’s work is the gold-standard for me intellectually, but he was also a deep personal inspiration: bold, charismatic, unabashed, unapologetic, and fully engaged with life’s pleasures and ironies. He offered a model of an academic who never compromised on life, love or laughter. I don’t think this was coincidental to the power of his work. His writing does not just inform — it inspires and transforms. He always encouraged his students to find their ‘burning questions’ to follow their passions as this was what would truly sustain them and feed not just their careers but their souls.”

Anthro in the news 07/09/2012
Anthropologyworks featured a lead article from anthropologist Mark Schuller on Haiti, Too Soon for Carnival: Sweeping Haiti’s 400,000 Poor Back Under the Rug and links to news about Michel-Rolph Trouillot at the end.

The Headline I Wish We Were Reading: Anthropology Changed Everything, Jason Antrosio, 8 July 2012
The headline I wish we were reading is how the nation gathered to reflect on Trouillot’s work and legacy: Anthropology Changed Everything.

Le célèbre anthropologue et historien haïtien Michel-Rolph Trouillot est mort, 06 Juillet 2012
Michel-Rolph Trouillot « s’est toujours penché avec intelligence, passion et sensibilité sur les questions sociales haïtiennes et laisse derrière lui une œuvre qui constitue une référence incontournable pour toute réflexion sur les réalités haïtiennes et sur les sciences sociales en général », lit-on dans le communiqué de la Fondation Anne-Marie Morisset.

Michel-Rolph Trouillot destacado antropólogo haitiano, 8 Julio 2012
El Dr. Michel-Rolph Trouillot destacado antropólogo haitiano y Profesor de la Universidad de Chicago falleció el pasado 5 de Julio de 2012. En el 2011 el Dr. Trouillot recibió el premio “Frantz Fanon Lifetime Achievement” el cual es otorgado anualmente por la Asociación de Filósofos del Caribe a destacados intelectuales por su contribución a los estudios y al pensamiento caribeños. . . . Transformaciones Globales. La Antropología y el mundo moderno (2011) contiene “seis ensayos que hacen una lectura crítica de la antropología desde el análisis de su campo temático y sus principales objetos discursivos; los contenidos de los discursos universales creados en el Atlántico Norte y su despliegue en los países periféricos, sobre todo (pero no exclusivamente) en el Caribe; las características de la globalización neoliberal; el tratamiento antropológico del Estado en la modernidad y su adecuación en la era global; el papel de la cultura en la disciplina y la manera como los antropólogos han enfrentado su uso y movilización por actores no académicos; y los lugares creados por la intervención etnográfica, desde el trabajo de campo hasta las locaciones. Esta traducción tiene el propósito de estimular la lectura de uno de los pensadores más osados y originales de la antropología contemporánea”.

Dr. Michel-Rolph Trouillot & Haiti’s Gold Rush, 7 July 2012
The island from which Dr. Michel Rolph Trouillot came is busy being reconstructed. Everyone is figuring out ways to harvest fruit from all the trees that have yet to be planted. While all the super-sizing of Haiti continues without a break, while investors rush to scrape the gold mines clean, let us heed Dr. Trouillot’s words and remember not to silence the past. Let us use the ropes of the past to ring the bell of Haiti’s real future. . . . Rest in perfect peace, Dr. Trouillot. VoicesfromHaiti celebrates your immeasurable contributions to Haiti and the world. We send our sincere condolences to those who have only begun to feel the sting of your passing.

Vibrant hommage de l’Université d’Etat à l’intellectuel Michel-Rolph Trouillot, décédé aux Etats-Unis, 6 juillet 2012
Le rectorat de l’Université d’Etat d’Haïti a exprimé vendredi sa consternation devant la disparition de l’anthropologue et historien de renommée internationale, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, dont il a salué l’énorme contribution au renouvellement des sciences sociales en Haïti. . . . Enfin, soulignant que certains ont « trouvé en lui de nouvelles raisons de croire en la perfectibilité de l’humain et en la régénération d’Haïti », le rectorat a présenté ses sympathies à la famille du disparu, particulièrement à son frère Lyonel Trouillot, l’un des principaux écrivains haïtiens d’aujourd’hui. L’historien Pierre Buteau a également rendu un vibrant hommage à Michel-Rolph Trouillot pour son œuvre considérable et son effort de renouvellement du discours haïtien dans le domaine des sciences sociales et de l’histoire des idées.

Michel-Rolph Trouillot: Power and the Production of History, Zinn Education Project, 6 July 2012
Haitian scholar, professor, and writer Michel-Rolph Trouillot passed away in the early hours of July 5, 2012 at his residence in Chicago. . . . In his memory, we share an excerpt from the preface to Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History: “I grew up in a family where history sat at the dinner table. All his life my father engaged in a number of parallel professional activities, none of which defined him, but most of which were steeped in his love of history.”

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 26 novembre 1949 – 5 juillet 2012
Pour marquer le départ d’un grand homme, d’un penseur qui a marqué notre temps et notre monde; pour exprimer notre peine, pour témoigner de l’impact d’une vie sur la notre, nous vous invitons à partager avec nous et avec le monde, des témoignages, des photos, des citations dans la langue de votre choix. Vous pouvez utiliser l’espace des commentaires ou nous envoyer des mails à pour que nous les ajoutions.

In memoriam: Michel-Rolph Trouillot, John R. Roby, 6 July 2012
Trouillot was known as a scholar of the history of Caribbean people, particularly their emergence from enslavement and the trials they have been subjected to in the process of integration into the increasingly global economy, and of the relationship between power and history. . . . I vividly remember my PhD adviser handing me a copy of his Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, and how I read it in a clip. The words seemed to burn off the page. It remains, to me, the single most influential book I have read about the way history is produced. . . . Trouillot’s concern in that book is to understand why some narratives of history become more accepted, more canonical, than others. Every account enters the historical record with some of its constituent parts missing: “Silences,” as he calls them, are not oversights of historical archives, but are constitutive of them, due to unequal power among the assemblers and subjects of those archives. When “facts” of history are created, so are silences–the things that are left out, disregarded, minimized. When you consider a historical account, you must recognize it is not an objective assemblage of things that happened, but an account that is shot though with power, and one that has many, many stories behind the story.

Reflection on the Revolution(s) in Haiti – In memory of Michel-Rolph Trouillot, esmat, 6 July 2012
Trouillot’s consideration of how the Haitian revolution was silenced in its present moment (and beyond of course, “ghosts that are best left undisturbed”) by Western recorders compels me to reflect on our own present moment. It is apparent that if you surrender to the historical unconsciousness that dominates our present society’s sense of itself (i.e. “American Exceptionalism”) you are absolved from resisting the present; empty, homogenous time renders resistance futile. In the consciousness of the ‘mainstream’, Occupy Wall Street is a ‘lost cause.’ Nonetheless, other narratives are written and published on blogs, on Twitter, and by independent presses, including this narrative here. The rebellion continues because there is no mystical power that consolidates and erases with totality, and certainly no cabal or conspiracy (though, undoubtedly, an oligarchy), but there is human agency and hope. Trouillot’s book is a powerful indictment of history, but one must not forget the potentially subversive power of history as well. In his narration of the San Domingo Revolution, The Black Jacobins, C.L.R. James did not just write an exquisite history (despite its silences) of Toussaint L’Overture’s struggle, of the Caribbean, of modernity and transnationalism, but also a call for global revolution.

From the Haiti Press Network, Décès de l’éminent intellectuel et universitaire: Michel-Rolph Trouillot:

L’intellectuel, universitaire et parolier haïtien Michel-Rolph Trouillot est décédé dans la nuit du 4 au 5 juillet dans sa résidence à Chicago, a appris HPN de sa sœur, l’écrivaine et poète Evelyne Trouillot. Ce brillant intellectuel et universitaire «s’est toujours penché avec intelligence, passion et sensibilité sur les questions sociales haïtiennes et qui laisse derrière lui une œuvre qui constitue une référence incontournable pour toute réflexion sur les réalités haïtiennes et sur les sciences sociales en général», peut-on lire dans une note de la famille.

Esteemed Haitian Anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1949-2012) has passed away, Lisa Paravisini-Gebert, 6 July 2012
Haitian intellectual, professor and writer Michel-Rolph Trouillot passed away in the early hours of July 5th at his residence in Chicago, Haiti Press Network has learned from his sister, writer and poet Evelyne Trouillot. Here is a translation of their report. This brilliant intellectual and academic, HPN reports from a family communication, “always looked with intelligence, passion and sensitivity on Haiti’s social issues and leaves behind a body of work that is an indispensable reference for any discussion of Haitian realities and the social sciences in general.”

To cite: Antrosio, Jason. 2012. “In Memoriam, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, 1949-2012.” Living Anthropologically website, Originally posted 5 July 2012 on the Anthropology Report website, Revised 19 November 2017.