The Haiti Memory Project is an online archive of oral testimony about the January 12, 2010, earthquake and post-earthquake life. The Project assumes that earthquake is a point-zero in the lives of individual Haitians and in Haitian history; it is a moment that divided time into “before” and “after”. The project is an attempt to document that change. The result is a collection of over one hundred audio-recorded interviews with Haitians in Port-au-Prince in the summer and fall of 2010. The interviews offer Haitians the opportunity to represent themselves and present their own narrative about what has happened to their country. While nearly all of these interviews include stories from the earthquake, most of them tend to focus on post-earthquake life, particularly life in the refugee (IDP) camps. The interviews invite the listener to engage with the intimate and unexpected details of life in Port-au-Prince and to explore Haiti in an entirely new way. While Port-au-Prince is by no means representative of all Haiti, it is the home of millions of Haitians and the majority of those directly affected by the earthquake. The experience of those in the capital city is crucial to understanding the immediate impact of the disaster.
No mere soundbites, the interviews range from thirty minutes to nearly two hours. They reflect the wide diversity of topics that defined the post-quake year — survival stories, politics, attitudes toward foreigners, Haitian culture, traditional medicine and their individual experiences with religion — forming a collage of the themes and concerns that animated Haitian popular thought and discourse at a critical moment in the nation’s history. With hours of storytelling recorded with more than one hundred participants, the Haiti Memory Project is a resource for anyone seeking to go beyond the stereotypes, who wants to learn how Haitians themselves interpreted their circumstances and envisioned their future.
The interviews, recorded in Port-au-Prince between June and December, reflect the project’s development. The earliest emphasize direct documentation of earthquake memories and the material living conditions in Port-au-Prince. As the project matured the range of topics grew more expansive and the conversations more personal. While the conversation were guided with set open-ended questions, often the interviews took on a life of their own as the participants revealed their unique circumstances.
From the beginning, the project was intended as an archive: the recordings would be preserved and made public so that individual memories about the earthquake and its aftermath would not be forgotten. Too much of Haiti’s history has been lost already for lack of documentation. By sharing these documents over the internet rather than in a traditional archive, the project seeks to make them accessible in Haiti and around the world. The interviews will have enormous value for researchers who are interested in post-earthquake Haiti. But more importantly, they form a reservoir of memories that will be accessible to Haitians in future years who want to understand their present by listening to the past.
The Haiti Memory Project sought and acquired the approval of New York University’s University Committee on Activities Involving Human Subjects.