Focus on history and heritage

Caribbean history and heritage was the focus of a recent special History Forum at The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

Held under the theme From The Margins To The Main: Sharing New Perspectives In Caribbean History And Heritage, the second graduate symposium presented developing scholarship from across the region. Presenters were drawn from the department of history and philosophy, the discipline of cultural studies and the department of biological and chemical sciences and explored diverse topics such as feminism, politics, Independence, trade unionism, freemasonry, natural heritage and medical history.

A special focus of this year’s symposium was the development of new interdisciplinary research in environmental and medical history. Several papers looked at how past and present communities have perceived environmental sustainability and food production (or the lack thereof) as part of local strategies to combat food insecurity, economic distress and disaster preparedness.

The second panel Nature: Power, Protection And Place provided insight into church-based community to disaster preparedness since Hurricane Janet in 1955. Seventh-Day Adventist pastor Rev. De Vere Lindo explained how the devastating 1955 hurricane motivated the church to help deal with natural disaster in the Eastern Caribbean. Hurricanes and other natural disasters continued to test the preparedness of the church; however, Lindo demonstrated the need for ongoing coordination between international, regional and local congregations to help provide immediate relief to disaster survivors.

Deidre Myers, presented an environmental policy history of Barbados’ wetlands. Explaining how negative perceptions of “swamps” have influenced the lack of protection of these vital ecosystems, she discussed the role of tourism and housing development pressures in threatening degraded wetlands in Barbados, including Graeme Hall, Long Pond and Chancery Lane. Calling for greater awareness and protection, Myers’ research also extends to wetlands systems in Barbuda and Anguilla to understand how Caribbean people have perceived their greatest defense against the threat of coastal erosion.

Deidre Myers on Wetland Policy in Barbados
Deidre Myers on Wetland Policy in Barbados

Dr Anthony Richards, an Antiguan chemist, who has conducted extensive research into the cultural value of various plant species, delivered an enlightening presentation on the Widi Widi or Corchorus sp. bush used by Afro-Caribbeans throughout the region as a protest food from slavery until the 20th century. Explaining the role of ancestral knowledge in the environmental protection of the region’s plant biodiversity, Richards encouraged modern Caribbean societies to recognise the nutritional and cultural value of local plants as resources to combat food insecurity and build cultural identity.

Continuing the underlying theme of health and nutrition, the third panel included presentations from Geoffrey Ward, and visiting Fulbright scholar Brittany Vosler. Ward’s discussion of scurvy and infectious disease prevention in the Royal Navy during the American Revolution, provided keen insight into Barbados’ role as a site of medical and nutritional intervention to protect the lives of seamen in the British Navy.

He discussed Barbados’ importance in the provisioning of ships with fresh produce and clean water in the late 18th century. Vosler, on the other hand, looked at the failure of British imperial officials to negotiate centralised public health policy in 20th century Barbados, which resulted in high rates of infant mortality and communicable diseases in the interwar period among the local population.

The history forum is a departmental seminar series which takes place every other Friday during the academic year in the Bruce St John Conference Room in the Faculty of Humanities and Education. It is a meeting place for all those interested in history.

The public is invited to learn more about current research, discuss current trends in the discipline and share ideas. Organized by members of the Department, Dr Cleve Scott and Dr Tara Inniss, the graduate symposium was a special event that was hosted as part of the history forum.  (PR)


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