Empire and Culture in the Early Modern English Caribbean (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a fall 2010 semester seminar led by Carla Gardina Pestana and David S. Shields.

In the early modern imagination, the Caribbean loomed as the most valuable and most dangerous place in the world. This seminar, which explored English-language writings about the Caribbean, charted the complicated vision of the region from the intrusion of the Tudor “sea dogs”—most famously Sir Francis Drake—to the failure of the Darien scheme at the end of the seventeenth century. Before Jamaica became the brutal sugar-producing behemoth it would be in the eighteenth century, the Caribbean was the site of varied English activity and the focus of increasing English attention. Claimed and largely controlled by Spain in the early-sixteenth century, the Caribbean arena witnessed the intrusion of the English mid-century, and a concerted program of imperial projection into the region thereafter. Settlement by soldiers and pirates from the 1620s brought a permanent English presence and the eventual creation of plantation economies, networks of trade, and increased knowledge of the region. This seminar considered a wide area of texts: from the accounts of English exploits through the geographies, natural histories, and economic tracts to the writings on emerging labor systems. Projects were welcomed on such topics as theoretical underpinning and comparative approaches to empire; the problem of islands; gender; trade, commerce, and finance; and Cromwell’s Western Design.



Directors: Carla Gardina Pestana holds the W.E. Smith Chair in History at Miami University. Her most recent book is Protestant Empire: Religion and the making of the British Atlantic World (2009). Currently a Guggenheim Fellow, she is working on a history of the English conquest of Jamaica and a broader study of the imperial conflicts of the mid-seventeenth century that centered in the Caribbean.

David S. Shields is the McClintock Professor of Southern Letters of the University of South Carolina. His books range fromOracles of Empire: Poetry, Politics, and Commerce in British America, 1690–1750 (1990) to Material Culture in Anglo-America: Regional Identity and Urbanity in the Tidewater, Lowcountry, and Caribbean (2009). He has written extensively on transatlantic and hemispheric writing and has edited the journal Early American Literature.