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The indigenous Caribbean

This seminar will consider the pre-Columbian history of the Caribbean and how it has been written. We will also use this as opportunity to reflect on questions of historiography and evidence.

Seminar questions

  • How much attention have historians given to indigenous Caribbean societies?
  • How have historians tended to understand or conceptualise indigenous Caribbean people and how has this changed?
  • What sources are available for writing the pre-1492 history of the Caribbean?
  • Explain the origin of the idea that parts of the Caribbean were inhabited by cannibals. What were the consequences of this understanding?

Required reading and activity

Everyone should read the following:

Foote, Nicola (ed.), The Caribbean History Reader (London: Routledge, 2013), pp 1-16.

In addition, I want you to look at some general histories of the Caribbean, which you can find by exploring the Caribbean history shelves in the library (class marks F1608-F2191). Start by browsing these works as a whole and consider the following questions:

  • How prevalent is pre-Columbian history as a theme? What other themes seem to predominate?

Next browse through 3-5 specific texts (especially the general texts under F1621 and F2175, many of which appear in the core reading list) in order to answer the following:

  • How much space do these texts devote to the pre-Columbian history of the Caribbean?
  • How much space do these texts devote to the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean?
  • How do they describe indigenous peoples and societies (particular terms, phrases etc.)?
  • What sources are used in relation to pre-Columbian history and/or indigenous peoples?
  • Do you notice any changes in the way in which pre-Columbian history and/or indigenous peoples are described over time (i.e. in history books written at different times)? Parry's A short history of the West Indies may be useful to look at in this regard.

I'm not expecting you to read all these texts, but rather to look through them for the information to answer these questions. I'd recommend that you focus on the contents, index and earliest chapters. You will be asked to discuss your findings in the class.

Further reading

See reading list for lecture on the 'Pre-Columbian populations and societies'.

See also

'Caribs of Dominica to be Portrayed as Cannibals in Disney Film', posted on 14 February 2005 by Maximilian Forte,

Pirates of the Caribbean II: Dead Man's Chest, Carib scenes,