From the Letters to the Editor column in the May-June 1995 Perspectives
Caribbean History by Caribbean Historians
Tom August, May 1995
To the Editor:
Colin Palmer's article in the February 1995 issue of Perspectives correctly points out the need to tell Caribbean history "from the perspective of those who made it and lived it." He forgot to add from the perspective of those who have written it. With but one or two exceptions, Palmer fails to discuss Caribbean historical writing based in the region itself. Students need to know of Curtin, Klein, et al., but they also need to know the Caribbean works comprising a great historiographical tradition: Williams, Goveia, Braithwaite, Rodney, and Higman, to name but a few. Would one encourage the study of German or American history without consulting "native" historical writing?
The larger problem, of course, is recognizing the historical importance of the region. In the great sweep of world historical events, the Caribbean deserves its place as much as any other part of the globe. We Americans forget that at one time these island vacation spots mattered more than the entirety of North America. Ironically, it is academia itself that has contributed significantly to the neglect of Caribbean history. The American Historical Review continues to lump book reviews on Caribbean history under the rubric of Latin America. Until only quite recently, very few colleges and universities offered courses and programs in Caribbean history; the tendency was, and to a great extent remains, to graft the Caribbean onto the courses and programs in Latin American studies.
Let's not just teach Caribbean history. Let's listen to the Caribbean historians as well as to scholars outside the region. And let us rid ourselves of the tendency to treat the region as some kind of off-shore Latin America.