Caribbean History

Course Material 2023/24

From the colonial slave plantations to the commercialized hedonism of the contemporary tourist industry, the modern Caribbean has been characterized by stark and ever-changing forms of social inequality and economic exploitation. This topic paper traces the development of Caribbean societies from the era of the Spanish conquest through the Haitian Revolution and the origins of Caribbean nationalism up to the present.

Over these five centuries, the region’s former plantation colonies went from being an important economic engine of the early modern Atlantic economy to a peripheral, post-colonial region characterized by poverty, unemployment, tourism, international migration, and drug trafficking. This paper pays special attention to plantation slavery, slave emancipation and the comparative regional history of post-emancipation economic and political conflict. The paper goes on to cover the rise of U.S. hegemony in the Caribbean basin, the development of Caribbean nationalism, the Cuban Revolution, and the region's special role as a laboratory of neoliberalism.

From Cuba’s Castroist dictatorship, to Haiti’s neoliberal “failed-state,” to the colonial holdovers of Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Martinique, Caribbean societies have followed very different trajectories notwithstanding their shared histories of colonization, slavery and sugar. Colonization and the forced migration of the slave trade brought together African, European, North American and Asian cultural elements, which have given birth to novel religious, artistic, and musical forms. Some of these such as Vodou, Santería, Rastafarianism, Salsa, Reggae, and Carnaval have become well known worldwide.

This sixteen-part topic paper will examine Caribbean history with close attention to the region’s five largest societies: Cuba, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Jamaica as well as multiple engagements with small Caribbean countries and the many points of connection between the Caribbean and other world regions.