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ePortfolio of Melissa Bennett

About Me:

I recently completed my PhD as part of the AHRC funded Africa’s Sons Under Arms Project. The project was a collaboration between the University of Warwick and the British Library and used the British West India Regiments to explore the relationships between the arming of people of African descent and the changing nature of racial thought from the late 18th to early 20th centuries. As part of my research I travelled across the Caribbean and worked closely with local historians and professionals in the heritage sector to unearth photographs and stories about the West India Regiments. I was awarded a research fellowship at Yale in the spring of 2016 and spent three months carrying out research there and at other US institutions into the Regiment and soldiers of African descent more generally. Before embarking on this project I completed my Masters at Kings College London with a dissertation that focused on the colonial police force in Trinidad in the interwar period.


Research Project: 'Picturing the West India Regiment 1860-1914':

My PhD project focuses on images captured by and of the soldiers of the West India Regiments with the aim of discovering how these images reflected and shaped ideas about race in the Caribbean. I also use the photographs to learn more about the relationships between those of African and European descent in the Caribbean and West Africa.

The period covered by my research project coincides with the beginning of scientific racism for which photography was an important method of documentation and dissemination. Also important to this period was the backdrop of feared and actual racialised unrest.

These undertones of racialised thought and racialised violence coincided with the beginning of attempts to refashion the Caribbean islands as picturesque “tropical” paradises, leading to complex portrayals of black bodies and the landscapes they inhabited.

I am taking a broad approach to decipher how the regiments were portrayed as Black military bodies before embarking on a series of case studies.

Case studies explore the photographic portrayals of the regiments’ racially diverse soldiers after the rebellion at Morant Bay in 1865, photographs of the West India Regiments taken during campaigns in Sierra Leone, and tracing the connections between photographs of the West India Regiments and attempts to advertise the region’s landscapes and people to tourists.

To find out more please visit my photo blog.



Sep 2014 – Sep 2018, University of Warwick (submitted Sep 2018, Viva passed Jan 2019)
PhD History - ‘Picturing the West India Regiment in an Age of Unrest, Civil War and Tourism, c.1850-1914’.
Supervisors: Professor David Lambert (University of Warwick) and Dr. Elizabeth Cooper (British Library)

2012 - 2013, King’s College London

MA World History and Culture - Thesis ‘Who Killed Charlie King? Public Resentment and the Motivations, Structure, and Actions of the Trinidad Constabulary’

Supervisor: Professor Richard Drayton

2009-2012, University of York

BA (Hons) History and Politics - Thesis ‘An Opportunity Wasted? The Aims and Effects of the British Left’s Involvement in Trinidad, 1928-41’,

Conferences and Presentations:

‘What’s Happening in Black British History’, 14th November 2019, University of London

‘Displaying Diaspora History in Museums: The Krios of Sierra Leone’

‘Archives into the Future: Decolonising the Archive’, 26th March 2019, Friend’s House London

‘Unifying the Disparate Archive of the West India Regiment’

Radical Curation: Race, Memory and Activism, 28th February 2019, University of Westminster

‘Ten Years of the London, Sugar and Slavery gallery, Museum of London Docklands’

'The Matter of Slavery in Scotland', 7th December 2018, University of Edinburgh

Chaired a session on buildings and their connection to slavery in Scotland.

Postcard Journeys, 14th September 2018, SOAS, University of London

'“Of course what is says alone is out of date”: Critical Reflections on the Representation of Colonial Military Outposts in Lieutenant C.D. Harris’ postcards from Jamaica and Sierra Leone'.

‘Challenging’ Histories of Collecting, 5th - 6th July 2018, V&A

‘Challenging’ Photographs in the Museum (object-focused session for PhD and Postdoctoral students led alongside Ella Ravilious, Curator of Photography, V&A).

Society for Caribbean Studies Conference, 4th - 6th July 2018, University of London

Arranged and chaired a session on 'Caribbean history in schools: using academic research in the classroom'.

War Through Other Stuff 'Witnessing War', 24th March 2018, University of Hertfordshire

‘Insights into Military Photography, Ranks, and Relationships through Lieutenant Charles Howard Foulkes’ 1898 Hut Tax War Album’.

What’s Happening in Black British History VII, 26th October 2017, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies

Panel member, Final thoughts and conclusions.

Society for Caribbean Studies Conference, 5th - 7th July 2017, University of Essex

‘Exhibits with Real Colour and Interest’: Picturing and Encountering the West India Regiment at Atlantic World’s Fairs.

Two-Way Tickets: Travel, Home, and War, 20th June 2017, Oxford University

Domesticity, Duty, and Exploration: Photographic Remnants of the Experiences of British Army Officers in Sierra Leone 1898-1906

Armed people of African descent Conference, 12th-13th May 2017, University of Warwick

Presented a paper titled “Exhibits with real colour and interest”: Picturing and encountering the West India Regiment at Atlantic world's fairs'

What’s Happening in Black British History VI, 16th March 2017, University of Central Lancashire

Presented a paper titled ‘Deciphering photographs of black military bodies prior to world war one’

New Research in Military History Conference, 26th November 2016, Institute of Historical Research

Presented a paper titled 'Insights into military photography, ranks, and relationships through the lens of Lieutenant Charles Howard Foulkes'

Society for Caribbean Studies Conference, 6th - 8th July 2016, University of Newcastle

Presented a paper titled ‘“Photographs of ‘ General O’Connor and staff and all other celebrities for sale”: Photographic Representations of the West India Regiment after the Morant Bay Rebellion’

South East Hub Regional Conference, 9th June 2016, University of Kent

Presented a paper titled '"Made of poor fighting material": the photographic (re)presentation of the martial qualities of the West India Regiment during the Sierra Leone Hut Tax War of 1898

History Matters Conference, 25th April 2015, Institute of Historical Research

Presented a brief outline of my research and my journey towards PhD as a historian of African Caribbean descent.

National Archives and British Library CDP Training Day, 5th March 2015, National Archives

Presented on the challenges of using mixed media a PhD researcher.


September 2016 - July 2017, Seminar Tutor - Making of the Modern World

September 2017 - Present, Higher Education sessions at Museum of London/Museum of London Docklands

Public Engagement

Jamaica poster

4th December 2019

Workshop for British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership team: 'Decolonising the Archive'.

22nd October 2018

Public Keynote Lecture at the Institute of Jamaica as part of Jamaica Heritage Month, 'West Indians in West Africa'

19th October 2018

Public Keynote Lecture at the Jamaica Defence Force Headquarters as part of Jamaica Heritage Month, 'West Indians in West Africa'.

14th July 2018

Organised 'Fighting for Empire' outreach event at the Museum of London Docklands.

8th June 2018

Speaker at 'Teaching Race and the British Empire' workshop for secondary school teachers at the University of Warwick.

19th May 2018

Co-organiser of the participatory conference 'Ten Years of the London, Sugar & Slavery Gallery: Reflections and Responses' at the Museum of London Docklands.

12th March 2018

Panellist, 2018 Bernie Grant Memorial Lecture with Afua Hirsh 'Their Struggle was not in Vain: Lessons from Black History'.

23rd February 2018

Speaker and organiser of 'Teaching Race and the British Empire' workshop for secondary school teachers at the British Library.


20th October 2017, Web article 'Where is the Black History of Women’s Football?': Was commissioned to write a feature article on the black history of women's football for Women in Football. In the article I questioned why so many black women in footballing history have been hidden figures, outlined some black female pioneers of the game, and suggested what can be done to make their history better known.

1st October 2017, Black History Month Magazine Article: Wrote an article for the 30th anniversary edition of Black History Month Magazine on the importance of Black History Month where I recapped the last year's big black history events and discussed my own research.

17th July 2017, Eccles Centre Summer Scholar Series, British Library: Delivered as part of a public lecture series ‘Exhibits with Real Colour and Interest’: Picturing and Encountering the West India Regiment at Atlantic World’s Fairs'.

15th December 2016, Black Cultural Archives Black Historians Panel: Was part of a panel of five historians brought together to discuss the work of black British historians and the recent BBC TV series Black and British with David Olusoga.

4th December 2016, Black and British Discussion, BBC Radio London: Spoke on the Dotun Adebayo show about my thoughts about and involvement in the BBC’s Black and British season.

28th October 2016, Event MC, Black and British Filming, Black Cultural Archives: Hosted an event for the BBC at the BCA where Caribbean migrants and their descendants shared their stories. The event was filmed for David Olusoga’s Black and British and featured in the final episode of the series.

Ongoing Ad Hoc Research: I have carried out various research tasks for the St Lucia National Trust and the Antiquities Monuments & Museums Corporation of the Bahamas.

Blog: I regularly update my instagram photo blog with posts related to the history of the West India Regiment, photography, and the Caribbean. To view my my recent post please click here.



'Decolonising the Archive: Responsibilities for Researchers and Archive Professionals', Archivoz, April 2020, available in two parts at and

'Displaying Black British History: The Krios of Sierra Leone', History Workshop Online (Podcast), January 2020, available at: 

'Teaching race and the British Empire: taking the West India Regiments into the classroom', GEM Journal, 39 (2019), pp. 3-9

'Looking back and facing forwards: 10 years of the London, Sugar & Slavery gallery', Journal of Historical Geography, December 2018, available at:

'"Exhibits with real colour and interest”’: Representations of the West India Regiment at Atlantic World’s Fairs', Slavery & Abolition, August 2018, Available at:

Major General Charles Howard Foulkes and the Practice of Conflict Photography, E-International Relations, 12th March 2017, Available at:

Book Review: Christopher Curry, Freedom and resistance: a social history of black loyalists in the Bahamas, Slavery & Abolition, 2018. Available at:

Book Review: Katherine Paugh, The Politics of Reproduction: Race, Medicine, and Fertility in the Age of Abolition, Women's History Review, Available at:


Made of poor fighting material’: the photographic presentation of the martial qualities of the West India Regiment during the Sierra Leone Hut Tax War of 1898' Critical Military Studies, to be published 2019.


Melissa Bennett

m dot j dot bennett at warwick dot ac dot uk

Twitter: @HistorianMel

Instagram: men_of_the_westindiaregiment