About the La Gazette Royale Project
by Marlene L. Daut
The La Gazette Royale project, which I first began to develop in 2014, is designed to gather together and in one place for the first time all of the known issues of the two newspapers published during Henry Christophe’s rule of northern Haiti, as well as the six different versions of the Almanach Royal d’Hayti issued by the royal press. The most comprehensive collection of La Gazette Officielle d’Hayti and La Gazette Royale d’Hayti to appear in a single repository, there are 81 separate issues gathered on this website. They 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 journal through Haiti’s early print culture by providing brief descriptions and commentaries to accompany each publication. Some of these entries may 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.
Project History, Methodology, and Suggestions for Use
In the course of my research on the history of early nineteenth-century Haiti’s northern government (see, Baron de Vastey and the Origins of Black Atlantic Humanism, 2017), I attempted to gather as many issues as possible of both versions of the Gazette and the Almanachs. However, I soon learned that no single library contains a complete collection, and that the various issues that remain extant are scattered in dozens of archives across Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. Nevertheless, I spent three years searching the web and various library catalogs in order to collect the 81 issues and 6 almanacs currently featured on this website. Precious sources of information about the early years of Haitian statehood, I knew these documents would be of great interest to historians, anthropologists, archeologists, and literary scholars, who are studying early Haiti’s political and literary actors and/or the Palace of Haiti at Sans-Souci, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and which stood as the ultimate symbol of black sovereignty in the nineteenth-century Atlantic World. Rather than keeping the dozens of issues I had collected in the course of my research confined to brief mentions in my own publications, I came to believe that making the originals of these texts publicly available and more accessible through transcription (and eventually, through translation) was the key to combating the kind of colonial rhetoric that usually surges through public discourses about Haiti.
The benefit of keeping in the hands of scholars the important work of preserving these documents, rather than leaving the creation of such an archive to a large company, is not only the open access that we can offer, but the curation necessary for these newspapers and almanacs to have the most scholarly and public impact. One of the most important original goals of this project was to ensure that these vital documents of early Haitian statehood would become immediately accessible to people in Haiti. For, users will not fail to note that although all of these documents have original provenance in Haiti, only a single issue of the Gazette Officielle, as far as we know at this time, can be found in archives there today. Public access, international availability, and lowering the barriers of current provenance is a crucial part of this project’s attempt to archive early Haiti’s sovereignty, then, in that we must commit to both preservation and institutionalization in a way that opens up access rather than closes it down with a paywall. I envision the La Gazette project, therefore, becoming a publicly curated digital archive, index, and work of translation, which unlike the newspaper paper collections housed by corporate conglomerates, will eventually offer both theoretical and technological insight about the work of collaborative digital archiving itself.
Originally collected for my personal research, users will notice that reproduction quality and style varies from issue to issue, and from almanac to almanac, as these documents were not initially gathered with digital presentation in mind. Seven issues of the Gazette Royale, for example, were generously provided to me by historian, Julia Gaffield, who shared the images she took with her personal camera at the National Library of Denmark in Copenhagen and the National Archives of the UK; a single issue of the Gazette Officielle housed at and digitized by the Institution Saint-Louis de Gonzague in Port-au-Prince was happily shared with me by Paul Clammer; I took my own pictures with an Ipad of both the almanacs from 1817 and 1818, which are located at Special Collections at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte; eight other issues of the Gazette were xeroxed in black and white for me by the National Library of Ireland; a few other issues from the Bibliothèque Nationale de la France also appear here in black and white, as they were digitized from photocopies; the majority of the issues of the Gazette Officielle that appear on this site come from the British Library and were photographed by me using their camera, which means that these particular numbers, while of fairly high quality, do have a watermark stamp from the BL; finally, one issue of the Gazette and the Almanach each came to us from Archive.org. Publication quality reproductions of the remaining issues and almanacs were ordered from the Boston Athenaeum, the American Antiquarian Society, the American Philosophical Society, the Schomburg Center at the New York Public Library, the British Library, and Yale’s Beinecke Library. The particular provenance of each document is included with the transcriptions.
Along with the varying quality of the images of the originals, users may notice some difference in the style of transcription from issue to issue. This is because my research assistant at the Claremont Graduate University, Denice Groce, transcribed without the use of OCR technology 50 of the 51 issues of the Gazette Officielle featured on this website and eight issues of the Gazette Royale. I transcribed the lone issue of the Gazette Officielle from Port-au-Prince, along with the remaining 22 issues of the Gazette Royale, attempting with various levels of success to use Abby FineReader’s OCR software. Both Denise and I tried as much as possible to faithfully adhere to the original orthography of the documents and the quirks inherent to early nineteenth-century publications of this type (silently correcting a few faded accents or other diacritics here and there). However, because most of the transcriptions were done by hand, and checked only by my human eyes, errors undoubtedly exist and are perhaps inevitable with such a large project. We, therefore, welcome suggestions for corrections of all kind and will be happy to incorporate them.
Finally, the annotation feature (powered by hypothes,is) is the public facing element of this digital project. Because a first step may be identifying the many hundreds of people mentioned in these papers, one suggestion is that users can use the annotation program to help us cross-list the names in the newspapers with those found in the six issues of the Almanach Royal d’Hayti. Described by bibliographer Ralph T. Esterquest as the “Burke’s Peerage for Christophe’s grandiose kingdom,” these almanacs published from 1813-1820 represent invaluable sources of information about the many people who lived in the north of Haiti in the early nineteenth-century. Under-accessed sources of information themselves, the names recorded in these almanacs can likewise be cross-referenced with the genealogical society of Haiti’s records, culled from the National Archives of Haiti, a database that contains over 770,000 names.