Seeking PhD Students: ‘Caribbean literary heritage’ project

Repeating Islands

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A new research project funded by the Leverhulme Trust on Caribbean literary heritage is looking for collaborations with authors, researchers and archivists.

The Anglophone Caribbean’s reputation for outstanding creative writers has established itself globally since the late twentieth century, most prominently with St Lucian Derek Walcott’s Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992 and Trinidadian V. S. Naipaul’s just short of a decade later, in 2001. More recently still, a cluster of major international prizes has confirmed the extraordinary standing of Caribbean-born writers on the world literary stage. The prestigious Forward Prize for Poetry was awarded to Jamaican Kei Miller in 2014, Jamaican-born Claudia Rankine in 2015 and Trinidadian Vahni Capildeo in 2016. In 2015 a Caribbean writer – Jamaican Marlon James – also won the coveted Man Booker Prize. Such accolades speak of individual talents but they also intimate something of a regional context for literary innovation and excellence. Despite…

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Hilary McD. Beckles: the legacy of slavery in Barbados

Black Perspectives, the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society, has published an excerpt from the preface to Professor Beckles’s most recent book: The First Black Slave Society: Britain’s “Barbarity Time” in Barbados, 1636—1876.  In the book, Beckles explores the brutal course of Barbados’s history, and argues that the distinct social character and cultural identity of modern Barbados are rooted in its past as the birthplace of British slave society.

This is a link to the blogpost on Black Perspectives: On Barbados, the First Black Slave Society

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Carceral Archipelago: Mazaruni Prison, Guyana, by Dr Clare Anderson

Professor Clare Anderson is the director of a European Research Council funded project: “The Carceral Archipelago.” The project analyses the relationships and circulations between and across convict transportation, penal colonies and labour, migration, coercion and confinement, across a wide geographical area, and a chronology which stretches from 1415 to 1960. Dr Anderson recently travelled to Guyana to follow up on her research on the history of HM Penal Settlement Mazaruni. This settlement was established in British Guiana in 1842, remained open until 1930-9 when it closed briefly, reopened in 1940, and changed its name to Mazaruni Prison in 1950. Since Guyana’s independence in 1966 it has remained in use as a jail.

Dr Anderson’s interest in Mazaruni was piqued by stories of French convicts escaping into British jurisdictions in the Caribbean.  Click this link to read her recent blogpost about her trip to Guyana.

For more on the Carceral Archipelago – visit the project’s homepage here. Dr Anderson can be found on twitter here

Revolutionary Jamaica: Interpreting the Politics of the Baptist War

By Gordon Barnes In the preface to C.L.R. James’s magnum opus and classic text on slave rebellion, The Black Jacobins, James forcefully points out that Saint-Domingue experienced the “the only successful” slave revolt in history.[1] For James, this achievement rests on a dramatic transformation, alteration, or re-articulation of economic and political ideology, specifically in regards […]

via Revolutionary Jamaica: Interpreting the Politics of the Baptist War — Age of Revolutions

Imperial Entanglements: Britain and the Spanish slave trade

[Author’s note: this post is the second in a series of three about the trial of Pedro de Zulueta on charges of slave-trading. Please see the blog’s first post and the post ‘Zulueta on Trial‘ for more context on the Zulueta family and their involvement in the slave trade.] In 1844, a few months after […]

via In His Own Defence: Zulueta’s Response to Accusations of Slave Trading — Imperial Entanglements

‘The Colour of Shadows: Images of Caribbean Slavery’ by Judy Raymond

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The Colour of Shadows centres on the life and career of Richard Bridgens, the artist and planter who published West India Scenery in 1836. Many of the drawings from  West India Scenery are well-known, but as Raymond explains, Bridgens himself is a little-known character. Before moving from England to Trinidad in 1826, Bridgens had a successful career as an artist and furniture-maker and is known to historians of that milieu.  When his wife inherited a stake in the St. Clair plantation in Trinidad, the young family crossed the Atlantic to take on the life of the sugar planter. In documenting the world around him, however, Bridgens didn’t draw his peers in the colonial hierarchy, or the life he led, but instead he depicted the enslaved people who worked on his estate, documenting the conditions under which they lived and worked, and the new creole culture they were beginning to create.

Judy Raymond combines biography, history and art criticism to shed light on the closing years of slavery in Trinidad, and the lives of enslaved Africans before emancipation in 1834. Through her analysis of Bridgens’ drawings and their context, Raymond traces the social and cultural history of enslaved Africans and free coloured people in the early 1830s, covering subjects such as living and working conditions, clothing, and religious and spiritual observance. Raymond also engages with the historiographical debate around Bridgens’ motivation for publishing his images, and his position vis a vis abolition and emancipation.  Many art historians have dismissed Bridgens’ book as pro-slavery polemic. But by placing the drawings in the context of Bridgens’ life, and contemporary society, Raymond can at once acknowledge the sometimes discordant notes in the book, but recognise his drawings for what they are—a unique account of the final years of slavery in Trinidad.

Although The Colour of Shadows is essentially a book about Trinidad, Raymond’s analysis can be extended to other islands in the British Caribbean around the time of emancipation. West India Scenery contained 27 drawings—The Colour of Shadows reproduces 15 of them.  There is a select bibliography, which contains a mix of primary sources (nineteenth-century books) and recent works by historians and art critics. Raymond has been a journalist in Trinidad and Tobago for over 25 years, and the book showcases her elegant style of writing. The book would appeal to scholars and everyday readers interested in the 1830s Caribbean, art and history.

Bridgens’ drawings constitute a rare catalogue of slavery and creole life in the British Caribbean at a turning point in the region’s history—by contextualising the drawings, Raymond has made a substantial contribution to historical scholarship. I’m no art historian, but I’m sure her work also challenges scholarship in that field too.

To see the book on amazon: click here

Amazon Affiliate disclosure: clicking on the book cover image will take you to an amazon site. If you purchase the book, Caribbean Histories will receive a percentage of the purchase price. 

Final Passages: A podcast about the intercolonial slave trade, 1619—1807

I recently rediscovered this interview Gregory O’Malley did on an early episode of Ben Franklin’s World. O’Malley wrote ‘Final Passages: The intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619—1807,’ about the often deadly final voyage enslaved Africans were forced to make after their trans-Atlantic crossing, to other colonies in the Caribbean, British America and beyond. The book and the interview range beyond the Caribbean, but O’Malley’s research reinforces the fact that the Caribbean was the site of inter-imperial interaction, and the heart of the slave trade.

The podcast is well-worth a listen, and the book is written in a very approachable style—despite the nature of the subject matter.

This is a link to the podcast and show notes: Ben Franklin’s World Episode 8

Amazon Affiliate disclosure: clicking on the book cover image will take you to an amazon site. If you purchase the book, Caribbean Histories will receive a percentage of the purchase price. 

Bittersweet Sugar: A Brief History

This is a short post to link to an article on the ‘We’re History’ site. The article is by Calvin Schermerhorn, an associate professor of history at Arizona State University, and traces the history of the role slavery has played in the production of sugar. The story begins in the Caribbean, and explores the way that the Haitian Revolution precipitated the production of sugar in North America.  Follow this link to the article:  ‘Sugar’s Bitter History’

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‘A Parcel of Ribbons’ by Anne M. Powers

A Parcel of Ribbons contains an extraordinary collection of letters, spanning over fifty years, together with Anne Powers’ editorial commentary. The Lee letters were preserved by Robert Cooper Lee, a child sailor who left England for Jamaica with a parcel of ribbons to sell in 1749. He returned to England 22 years later a very wealthy man, having made his fortune as an attorney.  The letters touch upon personal, family, business and political matters. Together with Powers’ commentary, they provide wide-ranging insights into the social, cultural and business history of Jamaica and England in the eighteenth century. The letters are held privately, but with their publication in this book, they comprise a valuable primary resource, now available to researchers.

Lee married a mixed-race creole woman. In a move very unusual at that time, he took her back to England with him where they married. Relationships between European men and coloured women were not unusual in Jamaica, and it was also relatively common to send the children of these relationships back to Britain for their schooling (as Lee did), but to marry was an unusual step. This is an interesting twist which makes these letters all the more compelling as a primary source. A note on the letters though, as I’ve discovered in the collections of letters I’ve read about Caribbean-based merchants and planters, there is very little discussion about slavery – this silence is in itself telling. Lee’s letters are almost entirely silent on slavery, although Powers does include editorial notes on the subject.

The book also contains some pictures—most notably the portrait of Frances (Lee’s daughter),  which graces the cover. As someone researching eighteenth century families, I have yet to come across a portrait of anyone I’ve researched, so I’m very envious of Powers in this regard!

This is a long book—the letters are voluminous, and Powers includes a lot of commentary and background-setting, at times a bit too much. Powers’ research is clearly formidable and she knows the era well, but I would have appreciated more referencing for some of the background information. There is a tendency to include too much information…I do understand the impulse to include every detail you come across as a researcher, but I was sometimes confused as to the connection between some of the information and the central characters of this story. This is a minor point, however. The book is very readable—perfect for dipping in and out of. It is an excellent resource for the letters alone, but it would also be very instructive for anyone wishing to learn about eighteenth-century life in London and in Jamaica, and the connections between the two places.

Amazon Affiliate disclosure: clicking on the book cover image will take you to an amazon site. If you purchase the book, Caribbean Histories will receive a percentage of the purchase price. 

Another Ivy League School Is Addressing Its Dark History With Slavery

Repeating Islands

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A report by Danielle DeCourcey for ATTN.

Columbia University released a new report detailing its history with slavery, the latest prestigious school to publicly disclose how it profited from the sale of human beings.

“I think it’s critical universities do this,” Craig Steven Wilder, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology history professor specializing in American institutions, told ATTN:. “We’re institutions that are founded to produce knowledge and pursue truth and we can’t be cowardly when those truths are uncomfortable for us.”

The preliminary report addresses Columbia’s ties to slavery before 1865, when the school was called King’s College, and how profits from the slave trade helped to fund the university’s early days.

Significant funding to launch the university came from donors who made money from the Atlantic slave trade, at a time when America was still a British colony.

“The initial list of 66 ‘subscribers,’ who donated a total of over 5,000 pounds to help launch King’s, included Atlantic slave traders…

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