Summer Scholars: Caribbean indigenous Histories / James Knight’s ‘History of Jamaica’

26 July Summer Scholars Caribbean indigenous Histories  James Knight’s ‘History of Jamaica’

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An Eccles Fellow and a Carnegie Scholar explore Caribbean histories

The Summer Scholars season of free lunchtime talks explores the broad and exciting range of research being conducted in the North American collections at the British Library by Eccles Centre Fellows and Award winners. Tea and coffee will be served and attendees are welcome to bring their lunch.

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Uncovering Indigenous Histories in Maps of the Caribbean

What stories are hidden in maps? Starting with Columbus and continuing for centuries, European empires made maps of the Americas in an effort to better understand places that were still new to them, and as a way to advance their imperial agenda. By charting, naming, and fixing in place geographic features and people, empires sought to claim them as their own. Despite this troubling production history, maps often reveal unexpected details about the people and environments their creators sought to subdue. In this talk, Melissa Morris uses maps and other complementary holdings in the British Library to explore how scholars can use these sources to uncover histories of cross-cultural encounter. Europeans hoped that maps would help them make a claim to places that would erase those of Indigenous people and imperial rivals alike. Yet producing a map often required enlisting the help of the very people whose claims they sought to counter. These maps can be used to learn more about the Indigenous people and environments of the Americas, and the Caribbean in particular.

James Knight’s ‘History of Jamaica’ and the Lives of the Enslaved

James Knight’s ‘History of Jamaica’ (1742, Add MS 12418, 12419) is an important yet relatively little-known and underused source for the study of the eighteenth-century Caribbean. Jamie Gemmell explores the background to this ‘History’, and in particular the author’s narratives around the lives of Jamaica’s enslaved Africans.

Melissa N Morris is a historian of the seventeenth-century Atlantic World and an assistant professor at the University of Wyoming. Her current book project, Cultivating Colonies: Tobacco and the Upstart Empires, 1580-1640, considers the role tobacco cultivation and trade played in the earliest efforts by the English, Dutch, and French to colonize the Americas and how that trade emerged from a prolonged engagement with both Indigenous societies and Spanish colonists. She is a 2019 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow.

Jamie Gemmell is a third year undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh, and has been awarded a Carnegie Vacation Scholarship to produce a partial digital edition of Knight’s ‘History of Jamaica’, focussing on its account of the social and cultural aspects of enslaved Africans.


Name: Summer Scholars: Caribbean indigenous Histories / James Knight’s ‘History of Jamaica’
Where: Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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When: -
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