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The plantation economy

In this seminar, we will discuss the wider economic context for the plantations of the Caribbean, including by looking at the work of the Trinidadian historian, Eric Williams.

Seminar questions

  • What role did Caribbean colonies play in the Atlantic economy of Britain (or France) in the 17th and 18th centuries?
  • What have economic historians said about the importance of involvement in the system of Atlantic slavery for British industrialization?

Required reading and activity

Please start with the following:

Williams, Eric, ‘Capitalism and Slavery’ in From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492-1969 (London, 1970), pp 136-55.

Also read:

Beckles, Hilary, 'Economic interpretations of Caribbean history' in B. W. Higman (ed.), Methodology and Historiography of the Caribbean, vol. 6, General History of the Caribbean (London, 1999), pp 63-94 [there are some difficult ideas here; see how you do with pp 81-88 especially].

Further reading

Blaut, Jim M., The Colonizer’s Model of the World: Geographical Diffusionism and Eurocentric History (New York & London, 1993), chapter 4.

Cateau, Heather and S. H. H. Carrington (eds.), Capitalism and Slavery Fifty Years Later: Eric Eustace Williams: A Reassessment of the Man and His Work (New York, 2000).

Darity, W., ‘British Industry and the West Indies Plantations’ Social Science History, 14 (1990), pp 117-149.

Draper, Nicholas, Slave Owners in the British Atlantic (Oxford, 2013).

Drescher, Seymour, 'Capitalism and Slavery after Fifty Years', Slavery & Abolition, 18 (1997), pp. 212-227.

Hall, Catherine, Keith McClelland, Nick Draper, Kate Donington, Rachel Lang, Legacies of British Slave-Ownership: Colonial Slavery and the Formation of Victorian Britain (Cambridge, 2014).

Harley, Knick, 'Slavery, the British Atlantic Economy, and the Industrial Revolution', in A. B. Leonard and D. Pretel (eds), The Caribbean and the Atlantic World Economy (London, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).

Inikori, Joseph E., Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England: A Study in International Trade and Economic Development (Cambridge, 2002).

Solow, Barbara L. and Stanley L. Engerman (ed.), British Capitalism and Caribbean Slavery: The Legacy of Eric Williams (Cambridge, 1987).


The following BBC website was created in partnership with UCL's 'Legacies of British Slave-Ownership' project: 'How Did Slave-Owners Shape Britain?', (17 September 2018).

You can view the William Clark images on-line (and in colour) here: Search within this collection for ‘William Clark’.