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Hispanic American Historical Review 82.1 (2002) 156-157
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The Colonial Caribbean in Transition:
Essays on Postemancipation Social and Cultural History
The Colonial Caribbean in Transition: Essays on Postemancipation Social and Cultural History. Edited by BRIDGET BRERETON and KEVIN A. YELVINGTON. Gainesville: University Press of Florida; Kingston: The Press, University of the West Indies, 1999 . Photographs. Map. Tables. Notes. Index. xxiii, 319 pp. Cloth, $49 .95 .
Almost inevitably, edited collections are criticized for their uneven quality and reviewers often remark that the pieces don't gel into a whole. This might be doubly true in the case of a festschrift when the selected pieces have little in common except that the authors are all linked to the person being honored. The Colonial Caribbean in Transition is an exception to this rule. The geographical concentration on the Anglophone Caribbean (and one side-trip to the French Caribbean) and the focus on the postemancipation era as well as the general quality of the papers make this book one of the best edited volumes on Caribbean history of recent years. The eleven essays give a nice overview of theoretical and topical developments in the social and cultural history of the British Caribbean, which often set the trend for the historical profession in the rest of the Caribbean. The excellent introduction by Bridget Brereton and Kevin Yelvington on the promise of emancipation tie the essays together even better.
The Colonial Caribbean in Transition is a tribute to Donald Wood, Reader Emeritus in History at the University of Sussex, Britain. The editors state that they had some difficulty in persuading Wood to write a short autobiographical note. Even though Brereton and Yelvington are not sure this piece fully explains why they and the authors want to pay tribute to him (p. x), his contribution is well written and captivating. His interest in the British West Indies commenced when he worked as a talks producer for the BBC World Service where he met individuals like Henry Swanzy and Tom Adams. In 1958 he became deputy director of the Institute of Race Relations in London. He also was the founder editor of the journal Race. A few years later, he was appointed to be a lecturer in history in the University of Sussex and from the earliest days he taught history courses on the British Caribbean. During his tenure at Sussex (1964-89), he supervised numerous doctoral students and authored the authoritative Trinidad in Transition: The Years after Slavery (1968 ).
Given Wood's expertise on Trinidad, it is perhaps not surprising that half of the ten essays on the Anglophone Caribbean focus on this island; four more contributions [End Page 156] deal with Guyana, one is on Jamaica, one on the British Caribbean in general (and the odd one out looks at representations of Haitian history by Martinican writers). All of these essays are worth reading, although, as to be expected, some are better than others. A couple of contributions, including Brian Moore's "Leisure and Society in Postemancipation Guyana" and M. Noel Menezes's "The Madeiran Portuguese Women in Guyanese Society 1830-1930" cover neglected topics, but seem to be works-in-progress.
I found two of the essays outstanding, and both are by the volume's editors. In "Family Strategies, Gender and the Shift to Wage Labour in the British Caribbean," Brereton examines the withdrawal from the labor force of estate women (and children) following the end of formal slavery in 1838 . She shows that different kinds of family strategies lay behind the withdrawal of women and children aimed at securing the survival and economic and social well-being of their kin groups. Too modestly, Brereton labels her contribution as "very preliminary research" (p. 78 ), but its regional perspective and insights make this paper a must read for all historians interested in the social history of the nineteenth-century Caribbean.
Yelvington addresses a completely different, but equally fascinating topic: the war in Ethiopia and Trinidad, 1935-36. He begins his essay by explaining the intentionally ambiguous title: "Italian...