Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall (PhD, Stanford University) is Professor of History at California State University – San Marcos. Her newest book, Slave Revolt on Screen: The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games, was published in 2021 by the University Press of Mississippi and received the Honorable Mention for the Haitian Studies Association biennial Book Prize. Her previous works include The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism (UC Press, 2005; paperback, 2021); Haitian History: New Perspectives (Routledge, 2012) and numerous articles on French and Haitian history.
Slave Revolt on Screen: Video Games on Haitian Slave Resistance
FROG 2022 – Keynote
The Haitian Revolution (1791 – 1804) was a momentous occasion in world history, the first successful revolution by enslaved Africans in the Americas. But the Revolution’s memory was long suppressed in the US and Europe, prompted by fears among slaveholders that it would inspire copycat uprisings by enslaved people elsewhere.
One place where the Revolution’s memory has been revived is in video games. How well has this medium handled this sensitive topic, and has it mattered whether the developers were themselves descendants of enslaved people? This talk will introduce the Revolution and compare the ways that slave revolt in Haiti has been depicted in video games such as Assassin’s Creed Freedom Cry and Coktel’s Freedom: Rebels in the Darkness. In what ways, the talk will ask, do games like these help preserve the memory of slavery and of the courage of enslaved people fighting against an oppressive system? In what ways do they distort this history? How have players from different backgrounds responded to these games? What inequalities exist in who has the capital and know-how to make games about Haiti’s history? And how can developers with means to do so work to make more socially responsible games on this history?