Subaltern Histories of the Early Caribbean
University of Liverpool, Fall 2017/2018


"In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue," or so the rhyme goes. That simple saying, however, does not convey the significance of Columbus's voyage to the region we now call the Caribbean. Columbus's ships and the flood of Spanish conquistadors that followed him sparked a catastrophic disruption to the flourishing indigenous societies in these islands, began a centuries-long (and for some places, still continuing) colonial relationship between the Americas and Europe, and laid the groundwork for the transatlantic slave trade. This course examines how the Caribbean region was wholly transformed by its encounter with European explorers and colonists but by training a special eye to the histories of the colonized and marginalized peoples who also lived in the region. Unlike the rest of the Americas, the Caribbean's indigenous people—the Taino and the Caribs—were almost entirely decimated. As a result, we'll be studying two simultaneous but contradictory trends: the quick death of one society and the creation of an entirely new way of life, populated by different peoples, cultures, and practices than the first. Along the way, we'll focus on Spanish colonization, competition from Northern Europe, piracy, the rise of the plantation, and the slave trade's dreadful peak in the 1700s, which made the Caribbean one of the most economically lucrative in the region. During the eighteenth century, these colonial societies truly flourished, as the sugar colonies of Saint Domingue and Jamaica became the most profitable possessions of the French and British empires respectively. We will end in the late eighteenth century right before the global age of revolution prompted an age of emancipation in the Western Hemisphere. Our story, then, is one of encounter and conquest, destruction and creation, as we follow the Caribbean from isolation to decimation to global economic success.