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The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution is a 2018 book by Julius S. Scott, based on his influential but previously unpublished 1986 Duke University doctoral dissertation. The book traces the circulation of news in African diasporic communities in the Caribbean around the time of the Haitian Revolution, and links the "common wind" of shared information to political developments leading to the abolition of slavery in the British and French Caribbean.

The Common Wind: Afro-American Currents in the Age of the Haitian Revolution
The Common Wind cover.jpg
AuthorJulius S. Scott
CountryUnited States
GenreNonfiction social science
PublisherVerso Books
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardcover)


The book's title comes from an 1802 William Wordsworth sonnet to Toussaint Louverture.[1] In Scott's book, "the common wind" refers to the shared information communicated among African diasporic communities by African-Americans who worked in ships, docks, and ports around the time of the Haitian Revolution. Scott reconstructed the flow of this information through archival research and documentary analysis of newspapers, shipping records, and both official and unofficial correspondence. The book describes the system by which black sailors, slaves and freemen in the Caribbean carried "ideas, news, and rumors of equality and liberation from port to port".[2] Despite increased efforts by colonial powers to minimize the flow of information about slavery in the New World, African diasporic communities in the Caribbean learned about slave uprisings and efforts to re-enslave emancipated freemen of African descent.[3] As a consequence of the "common wind" of information, these communities developed an autonomous political identity that was more radical than those in African diasporic communities in Europe or the American colonies.[4] This communication across national and geographic boundaries "contributed to the destabilization and eventual collapse of the slave system".[5]


Scott researched and wrote The Common Wind as his Duke University PhD dissertation, which he completed in 1986.[6] He initially signed a contract with Oxford University Press to publish the dissertation in book form shortly after completing his degree, but did not agree with suggestions for revision and opted not to publish the book.[7] Aside from a selection from one chapter of the dissertation reprinted in the 2010 volume Origins of the Black Atlantic, which Scott co-edited,[8] the dissertation remained unpublished until a Verso Books editor, referred by another historian, offered to publish the text with minimal revisions.[7]


As an unpublished dissertation The Common Wind was cited hundreds of times in scholarly literature.[7] In Time, historian Vincent Brown called the dissertation "so exciting, original, and profound" that it inspired "an entire generation to create a new field of knowledge about the past".[9] The dissertation was the subject of a 2008 conference at the University of Michigan titled "The Common Wind: Conversations in African American and Atlantic Histories" that reviewed its impact on the fields of African-American history and Atlantic studies.[10] Eugene Holley, writing in Publishers Weekly, described the dissertation as "renowned for its creativity, imaginative research and graceful prose".[11]

In a review of the published book for The Nation, historian Manisha Sinha described the broad influence of Scott's work on American historiography, observing that the "history of the black Atlantic as it is currently known would simply not have been possible without Scott’s immense contributions".[12] Writing for CounterPunch, historian Peter Linebaugh praised the book's prose as "clear, persuasive, and (owing to understatement in the face of great crimes) even calming".[1] The Los Angeles Review of Books similarly praised the quality of Scott's writing, but also attributed the book's scholarly influence to Scott's unique ability to find evidence of hidden and ephemeral communications within sources that deliberately concealed those communications.[13]


  1. ^ a b Linebaugh, Peter (December 14, 2018). "The Significance of The Common Wind". CounterPunch. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  2. ^ Wilson Gillikin, Margaret (2017). "Haitian Connections: Recognition after Revolution in the Atlantic World by Julia Gaffield (review)". Journal of Haitian Studies. 23 (1): 183. doi:10.1353/jhs.2017.0012.
  3. ^ Rupprecht, Anita (2019). "The Common Wind: Afro-American currents in the age of the Haitian Revolution". Race & Class. 61 (1): 87–91. doi:10.1177/0306396819856212.
  4. ^ Kelley, Robin D. G. (2000). "How the West was One: On the Uses and Limitations of Diaspora". The Black Scholar. 30 (3/4): 31–35. doi:10.1080/00064246.2000.11431106.
  5. ^ Ashie-Nikoi, Edwina (2005). "A Multifunctional Space: The Uses of Rituals among Enslaved and Freed Afro-Caribbean Peoples". The Journal of Caribbean History. 39 (1): 92.
  6. ^ Scott III, Julius Sherrard (1986). The Common Wind: Currents of Afro-American Communication in the Era of the Haitian Revolution (PhD). Duke University.
  7. ^ a b c Bartlett, Tom (November 2, 2018). "An Underground Sensation Arrives". Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  8. ^ Scott, Julius S. (2010). ""Negroes in Foreign Bottoms": Sailors, Slaves, and Communication". In Dubois, Laurent; Scott, Julius S. (eds.). Origins of the Black Atlantic. Routledge. pp. 69–98. ISBN 9780415994453.
  9. ^ Begley, Sarah (February 15, 2018). "9 Books to Read for Black History Month, According to Scholars". Time. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  10. ^ "The Common Wind: Conversations in African American and Atlantic Histories" (PDF). Law in Slavery and Freedom Project. University of Michigan. November 14, 2008. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  11. ^ Scott, Julius S. (November 21, 2018). "Spreading the News of Freedom: PW talks to Julius S. Scott". Publishers Weekly (Interview). Interviewed by Eugene Holley Jr. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  12. ^ Sinha, Manisha (May 20, 2019). "The Mobile Resistance". The Nation. Retrieved July 5, 2019.
  13. ^ Bressler, Malkah (March 21, 2019). "Currents of Revolution: On Julius S. Scott's "The Common Wind"". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved April 18, 2019.