This course will present a picture of the Caribbean quite different from that held by many North Americans. For 500 years, this region has been the site of encounters and clashes among Native Americans, Europeans, Africans, and Asians. For three centuries Europe’s leading states fought each other to control these islands, which were the most valuable real estate in the Atlantic world. At the same time Dutch, English, French and Spanish colonists imported millions of enslaved men, women, and children from Africa to work on the sugar and coffee plantations that made the region so profitable for its masters. Supported by racism and colonialism, plantation slavery left its mark on the Caribbean long after emancipation and independence.
Poverty and powerlessness could not prevent Caribbean people from developing their own resilient and resourceful cultures, forged in resistance to slavery and rooted in a shared African heritage. In music, religion, and literature the Caribbean has given the world new voices and modes of expression that many North Americans value, though often without understanding their origins.
The goal of this class is to trace the emergence of modern multi-ethnic Caribbean nations from the slave colonies of the not-so-distant past. We will show that that though they provide tourists with a picturesque “escape” destination, the islands of the Caribbean have played a central role in the history of the Atlantic world for the last 500 years.