This essay, an introduction to the special section on Caribbean historiography in this issue, reflects on Caribbean historiography's role in the pursuit of redress for historic injustices by exploring what three recent landmark legal developments reveal about Haiti's place in the Caribbean's past, present, and future. From the vantage point of Haiti, the 2004 coup, the 2010 earthquake, and the exploitation of Haitians in the Dominican Republic demonstrate the important—yet politically, ethically, and legally fraught—role of Caribbean historians and the histories they produce in struggles for legal justice. At the same time, these three legal cases exemplify how forced labor and colonization practices remain lived realities, complicating efforts to translate historical analysis into legal redress.
Melanie J. Newton is an associate professor of history and director of the Caribbean Studies program at the University of Toronto. She is author of The Children of Africa in the Colonies: Free People of Color in Barbados in the Age of Emancipation (2008) and is currently researching a study of indigeneity in Caribbean history.
This essay assesses recent scholarship on Caribbean borderlands and Caribbean migrations in the century after emancipation. Despite the wealth of scholarly contributions, collective knowledge has been radically limited. Centralized migratory flows that carried (usually male) workers to labor for large-scale foreign-owned employers tended to generate social boundaries and ideologies of racial difference. Such cases have set the paradigm for scholars' understanding of Caribbean migration. Meanwhile, diffuse migrations toward dispersed opportunity—an equally or more common pattern, as population figures show—generated blurry sociocultural boundaries at the time and little scholarly attention since. As a result, significant swathes of experience are invisible in the cumulative historiography of Caribbean borderlands and border crossers. The essay points to pre-World War II migration to New York, women's migration everywhere, and interactions between the anglophone and hispanophone Caribbeans in immigrant destinations as key areas for further research.
Lara Putnam is a professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of The Company They Kept: Migrants and the Politics of Gender in Caribbean Costa Rica, 1870–1960 (2002) and Radical Moves: Caribbean Migrants and the Politics of Race in the Jazz Age (2013).
Although the historical impact of banking and financial institutions on the formation of the contemporary Caribbean has been profound and pervasive, the historical writing on banking and finance in the Caribbean has largely been neglected and marginalized. This essay explores the reasons behind this historiographical neglect while surveying the history of banking in the Caribbean across five hundred years and four overlapping eras—the prebanking era, the colonial era, the nationalist era, and the era of denationalization. It concludes with a consideration of recent approaches to, and a call for additional critical interdisciplinary studies of, the history of banking in the Caribbean.
Peter James Hudson teaches in the Department of History at Vanderbilt University. His essays have appeared in Small Axe, Radical History Review, Race and Class, and Transition: An International Review, and he is currently completing a manuscript titled “Dark Finance: Wall Street and the West Indies, 1873–1933.” He is coediting “Black Canada,” a special issue of the C. L. R. James Journal, and is the editor of the digital history resource “The Public Archive: Black History in Dark Times.”
Approaching the themes of the historiography on the Caribbean obliquely—from sites both within and beyond its geographical and methodological boundaries—this essay meditates on the purchase of disciplinarity and related modalities (such as the nation despite its fragments) in what Stuart Hall has characterized as a moment of “global dispersal.”
Madhavi Kale is an associate professor of history at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Fragments of Empire: Capital, Slavery, and Indian Indentured Migration to the Caribbean (1998). Her current research explores gendered productions and habitations of subjecthood and nation in late colonial India through a domestic archive comprising the detritus of one couple’s lives contained in the space of the house they built together and unevenly and uneasily shared.
This essay revisits the central arguments made in Red and Black in Haiti and explains their relevance in understanding Haiti's political course since the Duvalier era. The essay responds to ones by Millery Polyné and Michael Deibert and addresses some of the comments made by others about the book. Emphasizing the importance to Haitian history of the years following the end of the US occupation, this essay argues that the lessons of this much overlooked past provide a useful framework for contemplating developments in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
Matthew J. Smith is a senior lecturer in history at the University of the West Indies, Mona. He is the author of Red and Black in Haiti: Radicalism, Conflict, and Political Change in Haiti, 1934–1957 (2009). His main research interests include Haitian political and social history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the history of Haitian migration.
This essay makes a case for comparative Caribbean historiography rooted in research that crosses linguistic, national, and imperial lines, through a discussion of Puerto Rican and Belizean working women from abolition to the 1930s. In illustrating the commensurability of apparently disparate cases, it challenges the paucity of historiography on intra-Caribbean comparisons as well as racialized and gendered assumptions of difference and even opposition between the Spanish and British Caribbeans. It maps out a methodology for comparing women's experiences and actions, along with gender systems across spectrums of similarity and difference, and suggests that women's and gender history can enrich comparative Caribbean historiography as a whole.
Anne S. Macpherson is an associate professor in Latin American and Caribbean history at the College at Brockport, State University of New York. Her book From Colony to Nation: Women’s Activism and the Gendering of Politics in Belize, 1912–1982 (2007) won the Association of Caribbean Historians’ Elsa Goveia book prize. She is currently researching gender, labor, and politics in Puerto Rico, 1938–40.
Sheena Rose is a Barbados-based artist whose work explores everyday experiences through animation, drawings, performance, installation, and painting. She received her BFA in 2008 and since that time has participated in a number of artist residencies and exhibitions in places as diverse as GreatMore Art studios in Cape Town, Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville, Art Omi in upstate New York, Tembe Art Studio in Suriname, and Alice Yard in Trinidad. Her videos havebeen exhibited in the Havana Biennial and in the “Caribbean: Crossroads of the World” exhibition in New York in 2012. She is the founder of “Projects and Space,” a virtual community that supports experimental art projects in new public spaces.
Introduction to the special section on Caribbean Epistemologies in this issue.
Kelly Baker Josephs is an associate professor of English at York College, CUNY. She is the author of Disturbers of the Peace: Representations of Insanity in Anglophone Caribbean Literature (2013) and the editor of sx salon: a small axe literary platform. She also manages the Caribbean Commons.
This article argues that the concept of bricolage in the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss is part of a greater poetics, an underdog or “dark horse” poetics that advocates for “the culture of the weak” and embodies an activist historiography. This reexamination of Lévi-Strauss's work is illuminated by a call-and-response between his Tristes Tropiques and Antonio Benítez-Rojo's The Repeating Island. A close reading reveals that the work of Benítez-Rojo extends one central discursive trope established by Lévi-Strauss—that of the cultural “transformation group.” For Benítez-Rojo, the Caribbean is itself a transformation group that shares many invariant features that “repeat” in the Caribbean. One such feature is the presence in the Caribbean of epic cultural “machines of a certain kind” that work to “defuse the violence” created by the plantation machines. This essay articulates the necessity of establishing a genealogy for activist historiography.
Rose Réjouis is an associate professor in the Department of Literary Studies at Eugene Lang College, the New School for Liberal Arts. She is the author of Veillées pour les mots: Césaire, Chamoiseau, Condé (2004) and is the translator, with Val Vinokur, of Patrick Chamoiseau’s Solibo Magnificent (1997) and Texaco (1997), as well as of Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s Love, Anger, Madness (2009). She is currently writing a book about Jewish and Caribbean historiography.
This essay considers Maryse Condé's Guadeloupean mystery novel Crossing the Mangrove as emblematic of a “politics of crossing.” The novel's queer critical praxis presents a rigorous challenge to normative (often oppressive) communities embodied by the individual, the family, the nation, and other collective ensembles to critique the failure of patriarchy, racist nationalism, classism, and heterosexism in the novel's postcolonial context. Although Condé's transnational intervention does not provide an alternative model in the sense of a stable structure, the politics of crossing gestures toward other ways or modes of affiliation: it represents a desire for an “Elsewhere,” for cross-racial, cross-national, cross-gender, or cross-sexual identifications or moments of solidarity. Condé's novel anticipates queer diaspora theory inaugurated by scholars such as David Eng, among others, yet Condé's politics of crossing also offers an odd materialism as well, one that is informed as much by Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon (however critically) as it is by Condé's own feminist contribution to scholarship on the Caribbean.
Christopher Ian Foster is a doctoral candidate in English at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and a Writing Fellow at Queens College. His dissertation project is on twenty-first-century African literature and migration, and he is an organizer for the Postcolonial Studies Group at the Graduate Center.
The onset of the Great Recession posed a stern challenge to the prevailing model for better living through globalization. Late in the last decade, after having dominated the theory and practice of policy reform for over thirty years, the market-first doctrine known as neoliberalism was criticized for this wave of distress, and the blow to its credibility provoked new interest in alternative strategies. At that time, Jamaica had undergone a long series of adjustments, bringing the national economy into correspondence with the neoliberal approach by shifting more and more responsibility for the reproduction of society away from government and into the hands of individuals. But how widespread was this embrace among the broader population, how have different sectors of Jamaican society interpreted and responded to neoliberal ideals, and what options remain? This essay contributes to the assessment of possible courses for redirecting action by investigating the degree to which the neoliberal ethic of entrepreneurial individualism has come to occupy the discourse of admirable behavior in one rural Jamaican community. Drawing on archival and ethnographic research, it examines the impact of neoliberal reforms on Jamaica's small-farming sector and the congruent significance of those reforms for the Jamaican national populace. The essay then identifies a course for navigating the conditions obtained after the recent crisis in the global economy, in which, despite having surrendered the validity of its promise, the neoliberal paradigm remains dominant.
Edward Sammons is a visiting assistant professor of anthropology at Brooklyn College, CUNY. He is presently completing his first book, which investigates transformations in how the concept of freedom resonates among residents of a Jamaican town founded as an enterprise of plantation slavery.
This essay explores the enduring relevance and challenges of Caribbean Négritude poetry, with specific emphasis on the work and thought of Aimé Césaire and Léon-Gontran Damas. The decolonizing imperative that speaks through their work retains an agonic immediacy and political validity, exemplified by the radical hip-hop voices that emerged following the 2005 youth uprisings in French banlieues. The essay pays particular attention to the opening salvo of the Négritude movement, Damas's relatively underanalyzed Pigments (1947) and Césaire's more celebrated Notebook of a Return to the Native Land (1939–56), the former as prefiguration of Frantz Fanon's psychoanalytical exploration of “the fact of blackness” and the latter as a transcendence of narrow identitarian affirmation announcing a liberated space: the “convocation of conquest” in which there is “room for all.”
Christopher Winks is an associate professor of comparative literature at Queens College, CUNY. A scholar of comparative modernisms, with particular emphasis on Caribbean and Latin American literature, he has published numerous reviews and articles, as well as translations from French, German, and Spanish, in journals and anthologies. He is the author of Symbolic Cities in Caribbean Literature (2009) and is the editor and cotranslator, with Adriana González Mateos, of Los danzantes del tiempo (2011), an anthology of poems by Kamau Brathwaite that was awarded the 2011 Premio de Poesía José Lezama Lima by Casa de las Américas. His anthology of writings by Cuban poet Lorenzo García Vega, Labyrinth, is forthcoming from Junction Press.
This essay contributes to ongoing debates about cultural and national identity and belonging in Jamaica by taking up the primary trope of the “shop” as the sole site of black and Chinese interaction. Through analyzing the fiction and poetry of Easton Lee, the essay considers how Lee's poetry and fiction resituate the primary contact zone of the shop from an urban space to the rural outpost, where the meeting of black and Chinese was also a meeting of “patois” and “pidgin.” Lee's work challenges representations of Chinese shopkeepers as parasitic, casting them instead as integral parts of the communities they serve, thus intervening in the way that the “shop,” and by extension Jamaican Chinese history, has been written.
Tzarina T. Prater is an assistant professor of English in the Department of English and Media Studies at Bentley University. Her areas of specialization are nineteenth- and twentieth-century African American literature, American literature, the anglophone Caribbean, and gender and cultural studies. She is currently working on several articles and a book project on Jamaican Chinese literary and cultural production.
Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich is a documentary artist who has completed projects in Kingston and Miami, and extensively in the five boroughs of New York City. She has a degree in film and photography from Hampshire College and is a current MFA candidate in film at Temple University. Her work explores themes of physicality, violence, masculinity, and identity within Caribbean American and urban space and has been featured in Studio Museum’s Studio magazine, ARC magazine, BOMBLOG, and Guernica, among others. She has received grants from the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council as well as the National Black Programming Consortium. Her work has been exhibited in New York, Miami, and London.
This essay explores Deborah Thomas's remarkable new book, Exceptional Violence, in light of the critical inheritance of the term diaspora and the status of grief in relation to Jamaica's repertoire of violence. Focusing on two examples of spectacularized violence that Thomas reads in her book, the essay explores the place of grief and the possibilities and implications of its expression in Thomas's work and for scholars and artists concerned with the black diaspora. One set of “incidents” (as the term goes) forms the basis of a chapter in Exceptional Violence on Coral Gardens: “Bad Friday” (1963). The other events, the Tivoli Gardens incursion of May 2010, appear in the book's epilogue, exceeding its main purview but gesturing at a new set of concerns for Thomas and exemplifying themes with which the whole book is broadly concerned.
Nadia Ellis is an assistant professor in the English department at the University of California, Berkeley. Her book Territories of the Soul is forthcoming from Duke University Press
This essay engages with Exceptional Violence and builds on Deborah Thomas's attention to state formation, statecraft, and political community to tentatively explore how “the state” has featured in Caribbean studies and what the role of Caribbeanist anthropologists has been and might be. Reflecting on the limited direct concern with the state that Caribbeanist anthropology as a whole has displayed historically, the essay suggests a number of avenues for productively studying the everyday life of the state, including a more explicit consideration of the active role that governed populations play in imagining, representing, and enacting their relationships with governmental actors and assemblages.
Rivke Jaffe is an associate professor at the Centre for Urban Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her anthropological research focuses primarily on intersections of the urban and the political. Her recent work has included a research project on crime and citizenship in Kingston, which explored how criminal organizations and public officials share control over urban spaces and populations, and the formulations of citizenship and sovereignty that result from this.
This essay proposes that Deborah Thomas's key contribution in Exceptional Violenceis not so much the book's rethinking of violence and citizenship (as Thomas suggests) but rather its innovative examination of Rastafari thought and the implications for the idea of freedom. The essay presents two orders of Rastafari discourse, four distinguishing features of Thomas's framework within the second order, a constructive critique of Thomas's argument, and an account of the significance of Thomas's work in late modernity.
Neil Roberts is an associate professor (as of July 2014) of Africana studies and a Faculty Affiliate in Political Science at Williams College. His work has appeared in Caribbean Studies, the C. L. R. James Journal, Encyclopedia of Political Theory, Perspectives on Politics, Philosophia Africana, Political Theory, Sartre Studies International, and Souls, and he is coeditor of Creolizing Rousseau and the “CAS Working Papers in Africana Studies.” His book Freedom as Marronage is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.
This short essay is a response to the reflections of Nadia Ellis, Rivke Jaffe, and Neil Roberts regarding Exceptional Violence. It uses their reflections as a springboard to think through anthropological practice more broadly.
Deborah A. Thomas is a professor of anthropology and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica (2004) and Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica (2011), and is coeditor, with Kamari Maxine Clarke, of the volume Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness (2006). She also directed and produced the documentary film Bad Friday: Rastafari after Coral Gardens (2011).