“Demonstration, Kingston”. Credit: National Library of Jamaica Digital Collection

The End of Empire in the Caribbean

Tutor: Henrice Altink

Module type: MA Option

Module code: HIS00047M

Credits: 20

General histories of the British Empire have paid scant attention to the Caribbean except for the system of slavery, which prevailed in the region from settlement in the early seventeenth century till 1838. Events after emancipation, however, have increasingly been studied by Caribbean historians. Based on this new scholarship, this course looks at the decades leading up to independence, which started with Jamaica in 1962. Following the First World War, organisations were set up that demanded far-reaching reforms but it was especially the labour riots from the late 1930s that put the region on the road to independence.

Proceeding chronologically and focusing on the four main colonies – Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Guyana – the course charts the factors that facilitated decolonisation, including the participation of black subjects in the First World War; the economic depression; the rise of the "brown" middle class; US pressure; and the rise of national consciousness. It is furthermore concerned with models proposed to achieve independence and the constitutional changes adopted in the wake of the labour riots, which culminated in the formation of the West Indiies Federation in 1958.

By charting the process of decolonisation in the British Caribbean, the course will pose important questions about the nature of colonial rule in the region and its impact on African-Caribbean people. In addition to relevant secondary literature, students will be exposed to a wide range of primary sources, including political pamphlets, official reports and sociological studies.

Seminar topics may include:

    • The First World War  
    • Middle-class discontent and organisation
    • Constitutional developments
    • The labour riots and the Moyne Commission
    • The rise of a political party system 
    • Colonial Development and Welfare Fund
    • Transition to representative government  
    • The West Indies Federation


Preliminary Reading and useful links

    • Foote, Nicola ed., The Caribbean History Reader. London:Routledge, 2013
    • Heuman, Gad. The Caribbean. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013 (or later editons)
    • Lewis, Gordon K. The Growth of the Modern West Indies [1968] Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 2004