Student Explainer

Was there more continuity than change in British-Jamaican relations between 1760 and 1870?

What are you asking me?

Between 1760 and 1870, a lot happened in Jamaica and Britain.

In 1760 Britain ruled the island with a system of Slavery that kidnapped thousands of people on a monthly basis from the West of Africa and transported them to ‘the Americas’ – hence the term Transatlantic Slavery.

By 1870, Slavery had been abolished in the British Empire and the many powerful British people themselves were demanding an end to Slavery across the world. Indeed historical actors (people living at the time), and historians since, have claimed that a complete transformation occurred! So, easy – essay answered! Coursework Done. Well, not so fast.

This image was created to memorialise the moment of Emancipation in 1838 (the ending of Slavery within the British Empire).
It was composed c.1858 by Alexander Rippingille and suggests a transformation occurred once Slavery was ended in the British Empire.
But how true was this?

Just as many historical actors at the time, and historians since, have claimed that much more stayed the same – continued – than changed. The Black populations of Jamaica were still complaining of exploitation and poverty in 1865 and were still being violently repressed for doing so. Britain may have been declaring itself an ‘anti-slavery’ nation by the time Queen Victoria took the throne, but their ideas of what it meant to be a Black person were far from egalitarian.

As such the following set of lessons will get us to ask : Was there more continuity than change in British-Jamaican relations between 1760 and 1870?

Why Jamaica?

What interpretation does this news report from 1862 give of British-Jamaican relations?

Jamaica was the largest island ‘successfully’ colonised by the British in the Caribbean and the source of large amounts of wealth for the British economy throughout our period of study. Despite it’s small size – the importance of Jamaica to British history between 1760 and 1870 is undoubted.

Why ‘British-Jamaican’ relations’?

The term ‘British-Jamaican relations’ is an intentionally open term. This is for two reasons.

Firstly the system of ‘Transatlantic Slavery’ in Jamaica needs to be understood in all it’s complexities. Slavery wasn’t simply a system of work. It was a social system, a legal and political system, an ideology.

When elements of that system were changed with the Emancipation Act of Parliament in 1833, this impacted and was in turn impacted by all these other aspects. The term ‘British-Jamaican relations’ should allow you to capture that complexity. You are Sixth-Formers after all! Life is complicated.

Secondly as part of your coursework you cannot all argue the same points, in the same way using the same materials. Although the overarching enquiry question remains the same, the term ‘British-Jamaican relations’ invites you to engage in elements of this history that most appeal. This is an enquiry that touches upon economic history, the history of ideas, the history of race, histories from below as well as the histories of supposed ‘Great Men’. Find areas of this past that make you want to research more!

What is an ‘Enquiry Question’?

Enquiring into the past is what we all do – whether we know it or not. However an ‘enquiry question’ is about asking meaningful questions of the past that allow us to look at it in interesting and meaningful ways.

Our ‘enquiry question’ for this coursework is – as I’ve already mentioned – meaningful. Historical actors and historians ever since have debated it. Was there more continuity than change in British-Jamaican relations between 1760 and 1870?

It’s a question we’ll be returning to again and again, so get to know it.

How do we learn?

You’ll be provided with relevant notetakers for the course and for specific lessons as well as PowerPoints and other readings / sources / interpretations / videos to go with them.

Each lesson you’ll be required to write up something that will, eventually, form part of your final written coursework piece.