Skip to main content Skip to navigation

White Creole Culture, Politics and Identity during the Age of Abolition, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2005

White CreoleSummary of the book

White Creole Culture focuses on white society in the Caribbean island of Barbados during the turbulent period 1780-1833. The book tells of a colonial community in crisis and confusion, unable to understand the momentous changes occurring in Britain that were turning opinion against the material and ideological basis of their society – slavery. But this is not a story of dead white men making history. By focusing on a series of emblematic moments – an effort to reform slavery from within, the writing of a landmark local history, the largest slave rebellion ever on the island, an episode of religious persecution and the final years before the ending of slavery in 1833 – White Creole Culture examines the Atlantic-wide influences that shaped white culture, politics and identity, and particularly the role of the slaves and other non-white people.

Barbados had been transformed into the first true sugar colony in the seventeenth century. The sweet substances and even sweeter profits that flowed from this and other islands stimulated the growth of European consumer culture, financed the industrial revolution and contributed to the expansion of a global, capitalist system. The British slaveholders and their white creole (i.e. locally-born) descendents took great pride in their island's status as an ancient, loyal and vital colony – even after its relative value had declined. Yet underlying all this sweetness was the enslavement of millions of Africans and people of African descent. White Creole Culture focuses on the period when Caribbean slavery came under attack from the slaves themselves – spectacularly so in the revolution that culminated in Haitian independence – and antislavery campaigners in Britain . In Parliament and beyond, these campaigners decried slavery as against everything that was British and Christian. The British metropolitan and humanitarian dimensions of this campaign are well-known, as is its ambivalent impact on the slaves themselves, but never before has the reaction of white slaveholders in the Caribbean been the focus of sustained research. The central question is how did Barbados 's whites – so long used to claiming their pre-eminence in the British Empire – respond to attacks on their society as fundamentally ‘un-British'?

White Creole Culture began its life as a PhD thesis at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge , in autumn 1998 and involved research in the UK , USA and Caribbean . The book itself was written during a Research Fellowship at Emmanuel College , Cambridge , between 2001 and 2003. As part of the Cambridge Studies in Historical Geography, it continues the tradition of original, research-based monographs. White Creole Culture combines the strengths of historical geography – a holistic, place-specific study focusing on relations between local and wider processes – with a modern interdisciplinary approach to identity, culture and race. Here it draws on but takes in new directions the histories of imperialism, as well as social and postcolonial theories, including the idea that Edward Said termed ‘imaginative geographies'. This interdisciplinary innovation is crucial to the book's strengths and its appeal. It extends recent work on the histories of slavery and abolition, including comparisons with the American South, and is a perfect complement to Catherine Hall's critically-acclaimed Civilising Subjects (2002). In asking questions about ‘Britishness' in the Caribbean , it develops the argument in Linda Colley's influential Britons (1992) in new, trans-Atlantic directions. It is of interest to scholars of the British Empire and colonialism, to those interested in race and cultural theory, and to such exciting, innovative fields as ‘Whiteness Studies' and ‘Atlantic Studies'. In these ways, White Creole Culture combines an original interpretative framework based on extensive research, with a strong, accessible narrative that will give it wide appeal.