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

Where did this come from?

The following sequence of lessons were produced as a response to a 2019 fellowship coordinated by the Justice2History, the Legacies of British Slave-Ownership and the Historical Association. It involved hours of work from all involved and hours more reading from us all.

The Enquiry focuses upon a question that kept organically emerging during that weekend discussing the legacies of Transatlantic Slavery with other teachers and historians. It’s a question that leaps up off the page when reading the historical scholarship not least because it something that anti-colonial movements forcefully asked in period of ‘decolonisation’. It’s a question that the historical actors at the time both demanded answers to and sought to change those subsequent answers.

Indeed as someone teaching with a ‘post-Colonial’ empire today it’s a question this country must grapple with…

How much really changed with abolition and emancipation?

Within the world of exam boards and the specificities that students

Why Jamaica and why ‘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. The enslaved people of Jamaica were Britain’s primary producer of that so valuable a product – Sugar. Students are specifically being asked to consider the specifics of ‘British-Jamaican relations’ – an intentionally open term – for two reasons.

Firstly recent scholars have pointed, quite rightly, to the island variations in histories and a wider focus on all of the ‘British West-Indies’ may well have led students down a path of generalisation. Jamaica

Secondly the term ‘British-Jamaican relations’ is intentionally left open as students, for the coursework, are invited to engage in elements of the historical discipline 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’. Indeed such variation in approach is to be encouraged by teachers seeking not only to instill a love for the discipline, but to follow the requisites of the exam board.

Thus by leaving open the wording of the enquiry I want students themselves to be able to open up a past as horrifying as it is foundational to contemporary Britain.

Approaching this moment with such a question opens up so many concomitant questions that I was sure my students would find engaging to grapple with:

  • What did ‘freedom’ look like and how different did it look to enslavement?
  • Did British colonialism in Jamaica look different after emancipation and if it did, how different did it look?

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 ways. It’s not about asking when the Emancipation Act passed? It’s about asking when the enslaved of Jamaica were truly emancipated?

Our ‘enquiry question’ for this coursework is something that we’ll be returning to again and again, so get to know it.

How do they learn?

Lesson 0 What do I know of Transatlantic Slavery? – is effectively there to give students a chance to build their contextual knowledge of the period and can be set at any time in the year in a ‘flipped learning’ / seminar format. There is a set of essential and optional readings with comprehension questions to support student note-taking.

Lesson 1 is an introduction to the topic and allows students to return to prior knowledge about slavery and any conceptions or misconceptions they may hold.

Lesson 2 introduces students – through the chronological bookends of Tacky’s Revolt and the Morant Bay Rising – to the Enquiry question. This is a set piece lesson that exists not only to generate the desire to enquire into the changes and continuities of the period, but also to begin to secure a basic chronological overview of the period. Get this one right.

The next five lessons enquire into the pace (when and how quickly?) and extent (how far?) of change in five key areas that emerged from the scholarship. All five ‘themes’ encourage students to consider the changes and continuities that occurred between 1760 and 1870 and will help them answer the wider ‘Enquiry Question’. These are as follows:

  • British Public Opinion towards/against Transatlantic Slavery
  • The rise and fall of the ‘West Indian’ Economy*
  • The extent of change ushered in by Emancipation*
  • The changes in forms of resistance by the colonised
  • The changes in constructions of race in both Jamaica and England

*Rooted in the academic debate, students are invited in additional lessons to consider interpretations on the decline of the ‘West-Indian’ economy and the extent of emancipation brought about in 1838.

How does each lesson work?

Each lesson includes a brief explanation and learning objectives, a PowerPoint, a collection of Essential Resources for the lesson as well as other relevant resources for students and teachers.

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