Tessa Murphy

  • Fellowship year:2014-2015
  • University: University of Chicago
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Caribbean
  • Dissertation Title: Imperial Imaginaries, Negotiated Realities: The Lesser Antilles, C. 1700-1795
  • Although the Caribbean was the first region in the Americas to experience the effects of European colonization, certain islands evolved outside the sphere of imperial control for more than a century after imperial rule and plantation slavery were firmly established in colonies such as Barbados. Located at the southern reaches or the Lesser Antillean archipelago, the islands of Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and Tobago were first settled not by wealthy white planters and their African slaves but by indigenous Caribs, runaway slaves, mixed-race families, and small planters who sought to exercise autonomy and authority beyond the borders of colonial plantation society. My dissertation argues that the islands' distance- both geographic and symbolic- from centers of political and economic power allowed the Amerindians, Europeans, and free and enslaved Africans who settled there in the period preceding the assertion of formal imperial rule to develop and maintain inter-island economic, social, and informal political networks that differed significantly from those imposed in surrounding European colonies, and that these networks persisted for generations, forcing imperial administrators to experiment with well-established modes of rule when the islands became formal colonies following the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763. In addition to integrating a little-studied region of the Americas into the history of the Atlantic World, my research contributes to the study of colonization in two key ways:  first, by charting the development of the colonial frontier in the absence of formal institutions of empire, I analyze the

    individuals and families who consciously removed themselves beyond the legal boundaries of early modem states not as passive victims of inexorable colonial expansion but as competing sources of political, economic, and social authority with which imperial officials were forced to contend. Secondly, I situate colonial peripheries as sites in which ideologies and practices of imperial rule were elaborated, experimented with, and negotiated.