Summer Scholars: The West India Regiment

The West Indian Regiment

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Two scholars explore the West India Regiment through cricket, military bands and World’s Fairs

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

‘Exhibits with Real Colour and interest’: Picturing and Encountering the West India Regiment at Atlantic World’s Fairs

The West India Regiments were the first ‘official’ unit made up of men of African descent in the British Army and were used to suppress rebellions and fight in wars across the Caribbean and West Africa. Melissa Bennett explores photographs of the Regiment that were circulated, sold, and displayed at World’s Fairs in Chicago and New Orleans to develop an understanding of how they were used to sell the Caribbean nations they inhabited and present a disciplined and developed image of their populations to white tourists and investors. The talk considers the unintentional impact that the Regiment may have had on US audiences. At a time when race relations were volatile in US cities, and civil rights campaigners were beginning to embrace the power of photography, the presence of the Regiment could have served to empower African Americans; this contrasted greatly to the stated aims of the organisers of the New Orleans and Chicago Expositions.

Playing with Empire: Military Bands, Cricket and the West India Regiment

Elizabeth Cooper discusses the ways in which the tensions of empire were ‘played out’ in cricket and military bands in Barbados from the mid-19th – early 20th century. Both tools and products of the British Empire, cricket and military music could be used at cross purposes, and gained meaning and ideological significance in practice. Symbolically cricket and military bands were crucial to the Imperial expansion; at the same time, their performance literally meant membership in the British Empire and could therefore call into question the contours and meaning of Empire. It is believed that the West India Regiment had a role in the first public cricket match held in the Caribbean. Likewise, its bands played for a wide range of events – not only military campaigns – including funerals, religious masses, and holidays. Both cricket and marching bands have been pillars of Caribbean popular culture; this talk considers the political meanings and cultural legacy of the West India Regiment in the 20th century.

Melissa Bennett is a PhD student working on the AHRC funded Africa’s Sons Under Arms Project – a collaborative project between the University of Warwick and the British Library. She is currently an Eccles Centre Postgraduate Fellow.

Elizabeth Cooper is Curator for Latin America and the Caribbean at the British Library. Her research addresses the inter-related histories of slavery, race and capitalism, popular culture and politics in the Atlantic World from the 18th through the 20th century.


Name: Summer Scholars: The West India Regiment
Where: Knowledge Centre
The British Library
96 Euston Road
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