While not centered on Haiti, the Haiti Seminar finds its motivation in the profound impact of the tragedy of Haiti's debt on collective memory, as underlined for instance in the series of articles the New York Times devoted in the Spring of 2022 to the legacy of Haiti's debt of 1826. Haiti's "odious debt" started with the indemnification of slave-owners imposed by the French government in 1825 as a condition for acknowledging Haiti's sovereignty. It was subsequently restructured, recapitalized and more generally "managed" through the intervention of often exploitive financial intermediaries such as CIC, Banque Erlanger, or later the National City Bank, leading to the creation of systems of receivership that enabled foreign control that alienated sovereignty.
This episode serves as a pivot, a prime illustration, and a significant case study. Haiti's debt is particularly noteworthy due to its role in highlighting the intricate connections between money, debt, sovereignty, and international law. The mechanics of Haiti's so-called double debt -- on the one hand the reparations owed to former plantation owners for the loss of their property, and on the other hand, the financial debt which the state of Haiti owed to the investors who had subscribed to the bond issued to pay-off the indemnity -- summon crucial aspects of modern global capitalism.
But the Seminar intends to operate a broadening of the perspective beyond Haiti, covering diverse historical experiences. More generally, the Seminar is meant to provide a venue for researchers interested in the international politics of debt, money and state-making and in particular, in pondering the longue durée of sovereign debt. It will feature a combination of paper presentations (based on circulated drafts) and less frequently, round tables devoted for instance to the discussion of new books.
The Seminar takes an interdisciplinary approach, aiming to bring together scholars from diverse academic backgrounds. In particular, it will invite historians, economists and legal scholars to debate their perspectives and engage in fruitful exchanges. It seeks in particular to foster discussions that encompass both case studies and comparative approaches and enable to put in historical perspective questions of debt sustainability, debt forgiveness, conditionality, political control, etc.
The Haiti Seminar is led by Marc Flandreau at the University of Pennsylvania (which funds the seminar) in partnership with the Center for Finance and Development of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and the School of Social Sciences and Government of the Tecnológico de Monterrey, Guadalajara. It is conceived to operate over a three-year period, commencing in 2023-24. The project will distribute a series of research grants. In particular, 10 Doctoral Prizes of 5,000 USD each will be awarded to PhD students located anywhere in the world and working on the history and economics of sovereign debt. This funding initiative is supported by Crédit Mutuel, Paris. The Seminar takes place online on Thursdays at 12pm EST. It will be concluded by an academic conference in the Summer of 2026.