Product no.: RD004

The slave societies of the Caribbean


Editor: Franklin W. Knight


Volume III of the General History of the Caribbean looks at various aspects of slave societies in the region from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Throughout the tortuous history of the Caribbean nothing exceeded in fundamental importance the twin experiences of slavery and the plantation system. Together these two overlapping experiences constituted the paramount defining episode of Caribbean social reality. The collective changes introduced by the Europeans during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries represented an intricate series of transformations that permanently altered every facet of the region. Prior to the sugar revolutions Caribbean societies were European ‘settler colonies’, each sharing common characteristics. After the sugar revolutions sweeping changes were made, not least in the demographic structure of the colonies. The growth of the slave system and the transatlantic slave trade, the slave economies and social structure, the place of the Maroon communities, political control within slave society, and forms of resistance together with creolization and religious beliefs are all part of this transformation process. After four hundred years a combination of internal and external forces over a long period finally brought the collapse of the Caribbean slave system and the abolition of slavery.

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This [Volume III] is part of a six-volume UNESCO History of the Caribbean [that] attempts to integrate the historical experience of its peoples and societies from the earliest times to the present. The region it surveys includes the coasts lapped by the Caribbean Sea wherever a historical explanation of activities of the societies in the islands compel an extension of the boundary to the south or west. The work provides a comprehensive history of the Caribbean, centred on its people and its landscape, written as much as was possible by Caribbean historians. It gives an account of what was common to all as well as what was peculiar to some and affirms the cultural identity of the region.

The work is organized thematically, but chronology has been taken into account both in determining

 the limits of the volumes and in ordering the contents of each volume. The choice of themes has been determined, in part, by the decision to write a history of the region which is more than the sum of narratives of the islands and the lands adjacent, and in part, to avoid the whole work being dominated by the experiences common to the entire region through the primacy of sugar, slavery and the consequent military and political presence of European powers.

Space has been found for peoples, societies, cultures and activities, less important than sugar and slavery but significant enough to have left their mark on the contemporary culture of the Caribbean. They include the first migrants, their autochthonous societies, the formation of new societies by the interaction of peoples in a new landscape, societies on the periphery of reciprocal relations such as Taino, Mayans, Buccaneers and Maroons, the transformation of European Creole societies to Caribbean Creole, the cultivation of crops which were not staples for export, and diverse forms of labor, peasants and migrants from Asia.

The chapters on the twentieth century pay attention to continuity and change; to the slow modification of daily life as well as the changes in structure and processes which make life in the contemporary Caribbean different from that of previous centuries. In the final volume the editors discuss methodology, the nature of evidence from oral sources, the expressive and material cultures, and review the historiography of each territory as well as the work which has been done on slavery, resistance, emancipation, ethnicity, class, gender, ideology, nationalism and imperialism in Caribbean history.

This history in its totality summarizes the current state of historical knowledge which permits accounts to cross the barriers of geography, language and politics. Much discrete insular work remains to be done on ideas and events before a more extensively integrated history of the Caribbean can be written. For the moment these six volumes have laid down the marker for future work.


  • 235 x 155mm
  • 400 pages
  • Paperback


[Published jointly by UNESCO Publishing and Macmillan Education Ltd in 1997. First edition. Unused review copy. Condition as new. Includes original publishers ‘new book information’.]

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