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A General History of the Caribbean

Satisfactory Essays
A General History of the Caribbean

When one undertakes an historical study, any success in the undertaking is arguably predicated on an understanding of the subject to be studied. Knowing the culture of a given people or region, the geography and climate of its habitation, the attitudes of the people and their current political comportment – all of these breathe life into the subject. It is this deepening familiarization that gives life to the historical figures and events of that subject.

Perhaps nowhere is this preliminary requirement more necessary than when undertaking an historical study of the Caribbean islands. This archipelago of fifty small to moderate sized inhabited units that span a coarse 2,500 mile arc above the north side of Central and South America represent a very similar and yet very diverse group of people and cultures. Sharing a common climate, they contain a variety of terrain. Subjected to European invasion and conquest, then populated involuntarily by black African slaves under an oppressively dominating plantation system, the dissimilar timing of these very common circumstances lead to a curious variety of cultures. Conversely, the many languages spoken and the several cultural manifestations that are apparent in this region do not obliterate an essentially consistent ambience, a common rhythm that is unmistakably Caribbean. It is this contradiction, this sameness and yet difference, that makes a vigorous introductory approach such a compelling and, in itself, such a diversified component of this historical study.

Even more important than the natural lure of anthropological or sociological considerations in their own right is the insufficiency of chronological political events alone to frame a general history of the Caribbean. Unlike many regions that experience clear, defining events and forces in a more or less cohesive fashion, periodization is difficult to construct for Caribbean history. Some pivotal events were confined to the particular island on which they occurred, while others had a regional impact. Furthermore, these latter sometimes did so with the uneven yet certain rhythm of the waves that come across the sea to lap the shores of the receptive neighboring island. This tendency yields a certain proclivity towards eclectic explanatory approaches.

Three different yet mutually supportive approaches illustrate the utility of this eclecticism. The Caribbeanist Sidney Mintz employs the analytical approach of a social scientist to identify conditions of common description in his article "the Caribbean as a Socio-Cultural Area". Antonio Benitez-Rojo injects a decidedly cultural emphasis to his historical narrative of the region in his chapter "From the plantation to the Plantation", taken from his book The Repeating Island.
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