‘Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day,’ by Carrie Gibson

Empire’s Crossroads provides a broad survey of modern Caribbean history, with a pleasing level of detail. Gibson zooms in to tell stories about the people and places of the Caribbean, but also guides the reader in making thematic connections across the region. She also places the Caribbean’s traumatic past in context. As she notes at the outset, the  modern Caribbean (from 1492 onwards) is the product of an encounter between Europeans and other peoples.

Over the course of this 350-page book, Gibson pieces together the history of the West Indies (which includes here not just the islands but the Latin American countries bordering the Caribbean Sea) – a history which has long since fragmented. As she explains, the history has been fragmented partly because historians are usually grouped by language or by their own imperial past – so the history of the formerly British, French and Spanish elements do not always take account of each other, and also because of the question of nationhood. As islands like Jamaica or Cuba make sense of their own histories, they push aside the wider Caribbean story in favour of a more focused one. Gibson ties together the histories of the region following a broadly chronological approach, and assigns a general theme to each time span. So there are chapters on Pirates and Protestants; Sugar; the Rise of Slavery; the Road to Independence (these are just a few examples). The book may bear the word ‘Empire’ in the title, but its span allows Gibson to cover the long period of European domination in the region, as well as the more recent histories of independence.

The book is beautifully produced, with maps, images, a detailed index and bibliography for further reading—and a very handy timeline of key events in the Caribbean. I have the original hardcopy, but for anyone taking the book on their travels in the region, the more recent paperback is a godsend! Gibson has a PhD in Caribbean/Spanish history from Cambridge University, and works as a journalist. This book showcases her skills as a researcher and an accessible writer. Empire’s Crossroads is recommended for the everyday reader with an interest in history, but would also be an excellent resource for students from high school through post-graduate. The footnotes and bibliography provide excellent pointers for further reading and resources.

Amazon Affiliate disclosure: clicking on the book cover image will take you to an amazon site. If you purchase the book, Caribbean Histories will receive a percentage of the purchase price. 

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