Book Review: Carla Gardina Pestana, The English Conquest of Jamaica

Carla Gardina Pestana, The English Conquest of Jamaica: Oliver Cromwell’s Bid for Empire (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2017).

Pestana Review

It is an exciting time to be a scholar of Caribbean history. From conferences to publications, the past decade has seen historians of early America, Latin America, and the Atlantic world turn to the Caribbean for insights into the development of empire, slavery, race, and commerce.[1] In this resurgence of Caribbean historiography, the seventeenth century has emerged as a pivotal period. That said, by taking a relatively well-known event like the Western Design, UCLA Professor and Joyce Appleby Endowed Chair of America and the World, Carla Gardina Pestana, demonstrates the value of exploring the early Caribbean in her new book The English Conquest of Jamaica: Oliver Cromwell’s Bid for Empire. Pestana’s work aptly shows the profound intellectual pay-off for historians willing to explore the seventeenth-century Caribbean with bigger questions about imperialism, race, religion, and gender. Continue reading

When Sources Talk Back

Boazio_Battle-of-Santo-Domingo

How do we select the sources we use? How do we approach those sources once we’ve selected them? What does that process do to the stories we eventually tell about the past? And, what happens when our sources disagree with the choices we’ve made?

That last question is one that historians working on the early modern period rarely have to grapple with – after all, the individuals who wrote the letters, manuscripts, and account books that we read have been dead for a very long time. And, it is an issue that I’ve blithely ignored until I read Manuel Gonzalez Pallano Tinoco’s “Narrative of the Invasion of La Española, Santo Domingo, which the English Attempted in 1655.” It is near the end of Captain Tinoco’s detailed description of the failed English invasion of Spanish Santo Domingo that this long-deceased chronicler called out future historians who would use his narrative on any but his own terms. And, his reasoning was compelling enough to make me question my own methodology in using his history in my work. Continue reading