Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Caribbean History: From Colonialism to Independence (HI2xx-30)

Module leader

Phone: 024 76523408 (internal extension 23408)
Office: Room H3.33, third floor of the Humanities Building

Office hours: Monday, 12-1 and Tuesday, 12.30-1.30 (during term) or by appointment (see here)

Quick links

Aims and objectives

Since Europeans ‘discovered’ the islands, territories and peoples of the Caribbean in 1492, this region has been subjected to externally-directed processes of imperial rivalry, colonial settlement, the cultivation of plantation crops, land clearance leading to environmental degradation, and the extermination of the indigenous populations and the forced importation of millions of enslaved Africans and indentured labourers from Asia. This second-year option module offers an introduction to the history of the Caribbean and its place in the wider world. It will present key themes in Caribbean history, including slavery, the plantation, ‘race’ relations, emancipation and its aftermath, and resistance. Of particular concern will be how colonisation made the region’s societies dependent on other parts of the world, a dependency which survived both the ending of slavery and colonialism, and how efforts have been made to challenge and transcend this. The module will accomplish these objectives through addressing the historiography of the region, as well as readings from sociology, anthropology and geography. It will also provide experience of working with a variety of primary sources, including films, literature and, in particular, visual images.

Module outline

The module starts by locating that part of the world we now refer to as the Caribbean in its broadest historical and geographical context. In the first term, we will mainly focus on the transformation of the Caribbean into a colonised region by considering European ‘discovery’, the arrival and expansion of plantations and, crucially, the establishment of slavery. Resistance to these processes, as well as their economic, political, social, cultural and environmental consequences will be persistent themes. During the second term, we will consider the gradual and uneven dismantling of colonialism in the Caribbean, with the formal ending of slavery, the rise of American influence and decolonisation, including the Cuban Revolution. The module ends by asking what the history of the Caribbean might reveal about globalisation, as well as if the shift from colonialism to independence really represents a significant change in the region’s relationship with the wider world.

For more details, please see the module timetable.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this module you should be able to:

  • demonstrate enhanced study, writing and communication skills, in both written work and group discussion
  • exhibit a capacity for independent study skills, clear/concise expression and critical analysis
  • show a familiarity with key themes and debates in modern Caribbean history
  • show some capacity to engage with historiographical debates relevant to the study of the Caribbean
  • exhibit improved ability to assess and evaluate historical sources, including visual images

Suggested reading for new students

Before you start this module, I would like you to read the following short piece by Lillian Guerra on 'Why Caribbean History Matters'.

I would strongly recommend that you buy the following, neither of which is expensive. We will use the James book in a couple of seminars and it is a truly inspiring book:

  • James, C. L. R., The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (London, 2001 Penguin edition; originally published 1938)
  • Heuman, Gad, The Caribbean (London, 2006; 2014, second edition; 2018, third edition)

For other module readings, please see the core reading list.

Teaching schedule

  • Lecture: Tuesday, 11-12 (room S0.19)
  • Seminars: Tuesday, 2-3, 2-4; Wednesday, 11-12, 12-1 (all in H1.04)

For a week-by-week breakdown, see the module timetable.

Assessment and non-assessed work

This 30 CAT second-year option module is assessed by

  • 4500 word essay (50% of marks)
  • 2-hour exam in summer (50% of marks)

For detailed information about assessed work including deadline dates and submission instructions please refer to the Department Assessment & Submission webpages.

You will be expected to play a central role in finding your own topic and sources, and coming up with a title, so start planning your assessed work early.

The deadlines for non-assessed work are as follows:

  • Short essay (2000-words max.) – due Wednesday, 14 November (week 7, term 1)
  • Short essay (2000-words max.) – due Wednesday, 30 January (week 4, term 2)
  • Past exam question (optional; write in exam conditions) – due Wednesday, 8 May (week 3, term 3)

You can use or adapt seminar questions for short essay titles or see list here.

For more information regarding asessment, please see the department website.


Columbus landing on HispaniolaAntiguan plantationSlave revolt, 1832Nanny of the MaroonsFidel CastroViv RichardsCaribbean beach