'Banana Plantation'. Credit: Bas Leenders. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

From Colonial to Post-Colonial States? The Twentieth Century Caribbean

Tutor: Henrice Altink

Module type: Special Subject

Module Code: HIS00090H

In 1962, Jamaica became the first British Caribbean colony to gain independence. While it adopted a new flag and anthem and appointed a black man as its first Governor-General, the Queen remained Head of State. More than 55 years after independence, the Queen is still Head of State. This and a recent poll which suggests that half the population believes that the island would have been better of if it had remained a British colony raises the question when former colonies become truly post-colonial.

This module tries to answer this question by examining the socio-economic, political and cultural conditions of British, Dutch and French Caribbean territories in the twentieth century. It first of all explores the various factors that gave rise to independence, including the development of race consciousness , the world-wide economic depression, WWII and nationalism. It then assesses how territories that became independent fared economically, politically and socially. After WWII, most political leaders wanted to move away from dependence on sugar monoculture and diversify the economy and adopted policies to encourage mineral mining and tourism. While this brought in much needed revenue, it also strengthened the position of foreign capital, raising the question of neo-colonialism, which will be explored in some detail alongside other negtive effects. While independent Caribbean nations have remained relatively stable democracies, they were caught up in the theatre of the Cold War and several territories, including Grenada, Suriname and Trinidad, have witnessed attempts to overthrow the government. Furthermore, while constitutions adopted upon independence stipulated freedom from discrimination, certain groups – women, indigenous people, and LGBTQ – have continued to be treated as lesser citizens.

Throughout our discussion of the extent to which Caribbean territories became economically-independent, politically-stable and socially-inclusive societies after independence, we will pay attention to the global context, which affected both the region’s economy and culture, and not ignore the politics and society of the territories that retained government ties with European nations. Discussions centre around textual sources (e.g. official reports, memoirs, semi-autobiogaphical fiction, travel accounts), visual sources (e.g. newsreels, documentaries, art works) and aural sources (e.g. musical recordings). Any sources relating to the Francophone and Dutch Caribbean will be made available in translation.

Seminars will likely cover the following areas:

  • The Caribbean, the colonial and the post-colonial: an introduction to key concepts
  • Caribbean plantation culture: setting the scene
  • Africanisation of the Caribbean   
  • Protest and depression in the 1930s
  • The road to independence
  • Creating independent states
  • Theatre of the Cold War
  • Post-war economic diversification and development
  • The dark-side of development: tourism, drugs, offshore trade
  • Dictatorship and democracy
  • Caribbean migrations and diasporas
  • Caribbean integration
  • The challenges and benefits of non-independent status
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Gender and sexuality 
  • Popular culture
  • Contemporary debates and historical reflections 


Language requirements:
The course deals with the Anglophone, Francophone, Hispanic and Dutch Caribbean. All documents used in class will be in English. You can, however, use non-English sources for paper 1.  


For more information, please visit the module catalogue.