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Abstracts from the workshop

Kavyta Raghunandan
Indo-Trinidadian: Negotiating ‘Indianness' among young Trinidadian women
The nature of identities in terms of gender, ethnicity, culture and nation has been the subject of significant academic debate, particularly in postcolonial and feminist studies. In order to address the ways in which the contemporary generation of Trinidadian women of Indian descent negotiate issues surrounding identity, it is necessary to interrogate the terms of this debate and redefine key concepts in ways, it is hoped , that may help to expand its scope, as social categories such as “race” and ethnicity, among others, are continually negotiated and contested under new theoretical shifts in postcolonial theory and poststructuralist theory which emphasise fluidity rather than fixity. This paper reviews ways of understanding the female Indian experience in terms of “diaspora”, “ethnicity”, “hybridity” and “hyphenated identities”. It seeks to show that essentialist conceptions of gendered and ethnicised identity are non-productive and that ultimately, the identification of oneself as female, Trinidadian, Indian, or Indo-Trinidadian can be read as discursively constructed.
Shirley Pemberton
The transnational socio-cultural practices of the St. Kitts-Nevis communities in 1960s Britain
Transnationalism refers to the phenomenon of immigrants maintaining connections to their homeland and using a dual frame of reference to assess their experiences in the country of settlement. This paper will examine the relationship between the transnational practices and the integration or incorporation of first generation Kittitian and Nevisian migrants to Britain. Despite the tremendous growth in the body of literature on the role and significance of transnationalism, and the expansion of debates about transnationalism and integration in recent years, questions remain as to the extent of the various types of transnational practices; the scope and determinants of migrants' involvement in these activities; why people engage in such activities; what relationship exists between transnationalism and immigrant incorporation and how these practices impact on migrants' daily lives. Drawing on theoretical literature based on transnationalism and incorporation and through the analysis of qualitative interviews and oral testimonies, the paper contributes to these concerns by evaluating whether or not transnational activities impede or sustain the incorporation of immigrants. The paper also discusses the extent to which transatlantic social and cultural links, notions of social capital and social networks impinge upon immigrants' adjustment experiences and identification as a migrant community in Britain.
Angela Whale
Symbolic Spaces: Identity, Borders and Migration in the Novels of Pauline Melville
Literature is one way of approaching the consequences that colonial influenced migration has for identity. Drawing on theories of cultural memory, my research investigates how Pauline Melville's representations of Caribbean landscapes and identities not only evade the cultural hierarchy formed by colonial texts but also call borders and nationality into question. Theories of cultural memory consider all artefacts produced by a culture to be texts which are produced from within and perpetuate that culture. As such, these texts provide sources for identity as well as citizenship, borders and migration. By challenging existing values, postcolonial literature creates symbolic spaces where cultural narratives can be reworked via the critical assessment of existing representations of people, landscapes and societies. In examining Melville's work, my research will discuss the renegotiation of Caribbean and British identity through literature, where narratives create a symbolic space in which the cultural memory that informs identity, borders and migration can be redressed.
Sian Williams
Circuits of Knowledge: The Royal Navy and the Caribbean, 1756 – 1815
Despite a vast wealth of scholarship on the history of the Royal Navy in the eighteenth century, there are large areas of social history which have long been neglected. This project hopes to contribute to the growing body literature in this neglected area of naval history, by exploring the Navy's unique relationship with the inhabitants of the Caribbean, through their role as protectors of the islands and trade and as providers of supplies, troops and information from the metropole. This research project will therefore attempt to plot the Royal Navy's integration into Caribbean society and their impact on the islands, through social interaction, physical changes, personal investment and the circulation of knowledge. By exploring the period from the Seven Years War (1756-1763) to the end of the Napoleonic War (1815) I hope to highlight the changing relationships with island inhabitants, as the Navy's role in the Caribbean altered from protectors to police, with changes to policy and the introduction of the abolition of the slave trade. The second part of the project will explore how the Navy were central to the circulation of knowledge in the Caribbean, from island to island, from the metropole to the Caribbean and vice versa. How the Navy helped to shape metropolitan understandings of the Caribbean will also be assessed in terms of their own observations captured in correspondence, journals and sketches and their positions of power held in the metropole, particularly parliamentary seats. Central to this study is the theme of the Navy's British imperial identity and how they perceived the plantocracy, whether as transplanted Britons in a foreign land with a shared British identity or detached from Britain with a new creole identity and in need of reform. The Navy were not only an embodiment of British identity, upholding notions of loyalty, honour and duty, but they were also the plantocracy's direct connection to the metropole.
Janelle Rodriques
"Too much row an' contention in this yard": Obeah and Nationalism in Alfred Mendes' "Black Fauns"
As a pioneer of Trinidadian and wider West Indian literary nationalism, Beacon poet Alfred Mendes made urban, working-class women the focus of his second novel, Black Fauns. Obeah is central to this novel's configuration of African-Caribbean political awakening, which was published in 1935, towards the end of the honeymoon period for West Indian Reformist idealism. This paper will place Black Fauns in the wider framework of literary nationalism in Trinidad and the West Indies, highlighting its concerns regarding religion, ancestry, citizenship, nationhood, colonialism and political identity. Most of the yard's washer-women are fervent believers in Obeah, and celebrate it as an assertion of their African identity, a refuge from a society that simultaneously ignores and polices them, that dictates to them, but of which they are distinctly not a part. They use Obeah, which is itself marginal, tangential and ‘vulgar,' to define their unique African-Trinidadian epistemology, and to locate themselves in their alien homeland. Martha, the yard's youngest resident, approaches Obeah with much trepidation – too much. As unsure as she is about Obeah, she is even more unsure about herself; this is the novel's central drama. This paper will explore Martha's relationship to Obeah, and demonstrate how her lack of faith (in both her African religion and her Trinidadian identity) destabilises not only the power of Obeah, but the structure of the yard itself. Mendes, as an elite Portuguese Creole, educated overseas, would have been socialised to ignore these women and their culture, and despite them being the focus of his anti-colonial protest fiction, his alienation is still evident in his prose. This paper will consider Mendes' ambivalence, as voiced by both Martha and the narrator, as symptomatic of middle-class alienation throughout the West Indies at this time. This paper will argue that Mendes' emblematises Obeah a symbol of West Indian/African national consciousness, to which he is doubtful. Martha's ambiguity is his own, and her simultaneous avowal and disavowal, declaration of faith yet false belief, signals the failure not only of Obeah, but of the nationalist dream for a unified post-colonial Trinidad, which assumed epistemic harmony where none existed. Obeah fails because Martha fails; her failure is the failure of nationalist ideology.
Steve Cushion
The British in Cuba: Sources on the slave trade
In 1907, Hubert Aimes wrote that the British brought 10,700 slaves into Havana during the first 5 months of their occupation in 1762-63. The figure of 10,000 slaves is still widely accepted and each repetition gives it greater credence and, despite Aimes's own assertion to the contrary, has led many authors the argue that British occupation was a turning point in the economic development of the island. However, the official correspondence from expedition's leader, Lord Albermarle, clearly states that one John Kennion, a slave-trader from Liverpool, would have the "sole licence and liberty to bring Negroes into the Island of Cuba during the present war". This licence allowed for the import of 2000 slaves. This begs the question: why should Lord Albermarle give a licence and then allow four times as many slaves to be imported illegally, particularly as his administration was continuing the practice of charging an import tax of 40 dollars per slave?
This paper will go back to the primary sources and use the Transatlantic Slave Database to shed more light on a historiographical debate