June 24, 2021

Scotland and the Caribbean

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Morris-200x300Scotland and the Caribbean, c. 1740-1833: Atlantic Archipelagos by Michael Morris (review)

By Joe Jackson From: Scottish Literary Review PROJECT MUSE
Volume 7, Number 2, Autumn/Winter 2015

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:
On a recent visit to Jamaica, the current British Prime Minister called for the Caribbean nation to ‘move on’ from the ‘painful legacy’ of slavery, carefully emphasising Britain’s role in abolition, and avoiding any concessions of culpability or reference to reparations. In a culture of denial and ‘willed amnesia’ at the level of the British state, Michael Morris’s excellent book is especially timely in its recognition of the vast, and enduring, significance of slavery to British imperial prosperity and national cohesion, and to the contemporary Atlantic world. Scotland and the Caribbean: Atlantic Archipelagos is part of a growing field dedicated to examining the cultural connectedness of Scotland and the Caribbean, attending to what Carla Sassi has diagnosed as the ‘collective amnesia’ of Scotland around that relationship, and working through the wider implications of such connections for colonial history and contemporary Britain.

This detailed work of cultural history focuses on Scottish-Caribbean cultural encounters in the century bracketed by a symbolic point of incipient Scottish ‘sojourning’ in the West Indies in 1740, and the year of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. The ‘Atlantic Archipelagos’ of the title refers to an elaboration of Markman Ellis’s idea of an ‘archipelagic poetics,’ applying the archipelagic paradigm not only to the Caribbean context but to Scottish writers contributing to a key moment of British nation-building. Morris refines work on pastoral and georgic forms in the period by examining the specific role the Caribbean plays for writers attempting to bridge the violence and vicissitudes of the preceding century in Scotland, to a ‘New Augustan’ British imperial culture and plantation economics, through meticulously historicised readings of James Thomson, James Grainger, and James Ramsay. This idea of such forms mediating political, economic and social transitions also recurs in relation to slavery, ‘improvement,’ abolition and emancipation. Mediation also features in the chapter on Robert Burns, which invokes Pierre Nora to argue for the poet as a lieu de mémoire of Scottish-Caribbean relations, interrogating the pastoral of the ‘national bard’ against the foment of pro-slavery and abolitionist sentiments in the late eighteenth century. The critique of Burns’s ‘free labour ideology’ fits within the book’s wider attention to labour conditions, particularly the function of slavery and its cultural mediations in establishing conditions for capitalist production, which constitutes a rich anthracite seam of Marxist thought running throughout.

Morris’s incisive criticism is complemented by a broad range of resources, which include archival records, visual arts, performance texts, even barometers of contemporary sentiment in the form of message boards and online polls. The book benefits greatly from this expansive range, which supplements both the historical and literary-critical elements of the work. Eschewing the relative safety of strict disciplinary parameters in favour of a mode of cultural history works well, in part because plenty of space is dedicated to establishing a theoretical framework, and also because the thesis is cleanly realised and digressions are relatively rare. The particular methodology of the book also demands a resolution of the tension between the productive national orientation of Scottish cultural studies and the generative transnational frameworks which have been applied to the Atlantic: the archipelagic, Gilroy’s Black Atlantic, Linebaugh and Rediker’s ‘Revolutionary Atlantic’, and Wallersteinian world systems theory. That resolution is generally achieved, balancing Scottish national specificity with transnational contingencies, and a healthy scepticism towards exceptionalist arguments, seen for example in a subtle correction to Alexander Murdoch. Echoing Morris’s own call for an antagonistic politics to catalyse social change, a more antagonistic endorsement of the national as a critical paradigm might have been a worthwhile inclusion amongst the other ‘theoretical orientations’ on display here, set in the present context of British constitutional consternation. That may well lie outside the book’s purview, especially considering the foregrounding of the transnational. However, the book certainly provides for those with a more explicitly national orientation, such as the historicising of black Scotland in the fifth chapter, which provides a valuable resource and some perceptive observations to scholars interested in applying a devolutionary process to discourses of race currently circulating at a British state-national level.

For more on this story go to: http://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/scottish_literary_review/v007/7.2.jackson.pdf

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Scotland & The Caribbean, c.1740-1833: Michael Morris’s New Book

By Alice Ferrebe · From LJMU English

MorrisSince joining LJMU English in June 2014, Dr Michael Morris has completed his first book, which participates in the modern recovery of the memory of the long-forgotten relationship between Scotland and the Caribbean. Drawing on theoretical paradigms of world literature and transnationalism, it argues that Caribbean slavery profoundly shaped Scotland’s economic, social and cultural development, and draws out the implications for current debates on Scotland’s national narratives of identity.

Eighteenth- to nineteenth-century Scottish writers are re-examined in this new light. Michael’s book explores the ways that discourses of ‘improvement’ in both Scotland and the Caribbean are mediated by the modes of pastoral and georgic which struggle to explain and contain the labour conditions of agricultural labourers, both free and enslaved. The ambivalent relationship of Scottish writers, including Robert Burns, to questions around abolition allows fresh perspectives on the era. Furthermore, Michael considers the origins of a hybrid Scottish-Creole identity through two nineteenth-century figures – Robert Wedderburn and Mary Seacole. The final chapter moves forward to consider the implications for modern (post-referendum) Scotland. You can find more details on the Routledge website.

Underpinning Michael’s research is the conviction that collective memory is a key feature which shapes behaviour and beliefs in the present. His book therefore surveys and supports the fresh stream of Scottish-Caribbean public memory work in Scotland, which includes historiographical scholarship, museum and gallery exhibitions, conferences, theatre performances, novels, public talks, television documentaries, walking tours, themed cafes and restaurants, and gigs. The striking image above is from a new exhibition entitled ‘Tartan: Its Journey Through the African Diaspora’.

Michael’s book is also intended to feed into and inform further efforts to remember. He is looking forward to introducing his ideas through his teaching at LJMU English.

For more on this story go to: http://www.ljmuenglish.com/research/scotland-the-caribbean-c-1740-1833-michael-morriss-new-book

Dr Michael Morris Postdoctoral Fellow Sep 2013 – Jun 2014

Michael-MorrisFrom University Of Edinburgh
Profile at Academia.edu website
Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities
The University of Edinburgh
Hope Park Square
Edinburgh EH8 9NW

Michael Morris is a Postdoctoral Fellow at IASH. He studied at the University of Glasgow and was awarded his PhD in English Literature in 2012.


Scotland and the Caribbean, c1740-1833: Atlantic Archipelagos.

My time will be spent on turning my PhD thesis into a monograph, to be published by Routledge, titled Scotland and the Caribbean, c1740-1833: Atlantic Archipelagos.

This research has two main areas of focus. Firstly, I seek to recover the long-obscured memory of Scottish connections with Caribbean slavery, measuring the impact of slavery on Scotland, and considering Scots as a thread within Caribbean creolité. I therefore view the Scottish Enlightenment in an Atlantic context moulded by colonial expansion and the institution of slavery. Through a study of pastoral and georgic modes, I interrogate Enlightenment themes such as the importance placed on ‘gradual improvement’ for slaves which delayed abolition until near the middle of the nineteenth century. Writers reconsidered in this new light include well-known figures such as James Thomson, Tobias Smollett, and Robert Burns, as well as the less well-known James Grainger, Hector MacNeill, and Philip Barrington Ainslie. I also consider the phenomenon of ‘Mulatto-Scots’ from the Caribbean. These include the radical Enlightenment figure Robert Wedderburn (1756-1834?), and the ‘female Ulysses’ Mary Seacole (1805-1881) who strategically employ their Scottish heritage for their diverse purposes.

Secondly, I develop the suggestion that theories of cultural creolization developed in the archipelago of the Caribbean can inspire a useful model of cultural interaction around the islands that make up Britain and Ireland, or the North Western Atlantic Archipelago (NOWA). In the context of the approaching referendum on Scottish independence, I propose that the vision of separate and sovereign island spaces within the larger ‘community’ of an inter-dependent archipelago suggests fruitful ways of moving beyond current paradigms of Scottish/ English/ British nationalism. This aims to reconsider the cultural interplay and power relations between and within the multi-cultural, multi-lingual nations of the archipelago in terms of cultural exchange and cross-fertilization, as well as competing hegemonies.


Scotland and the Caribbean, c.1740-1833: Atlantic Archipelagos
Routledge Studies in Cultural History Series, forthcoming 2014

I am also working on two more publications. The first is a chapter on Scottish literary representations of Caribbean slavery in the period before the founding of the Abolitionist Society in 1787 to be published as part of a collected edition titled Scotland and Black Slavery, edited by Professor Tom Devine. The second is a chapter in a collected edition of studies of slavery in sub-national contexts titled Little Britain: Local Nuances of a National Sin which grew out of a conference of the same name held at UCL in 2013. My chapter is titled ‘World-Systems, Many-Headed Hydras and Glasgow’

Conference paper ‘Atlantic Archipelagos: Scotland, Ireland, Britain and the Caribbean‘ given at
‘Ireland, Slavery, Anti-Slavery and Empire’, University College Dublin, October 2013.

Conference paper ‘World-Systems, Many-Headed Hydras and Glasgow’ given at
‘Little Britain: Local Nuances of a National Sin’, University College London, September 2013.

I also acted as dramaturge and made my stage debut in a theatre show that explores sex and power relations as part of Scottish-Caribbean relations by interweaving personal family reminiscence, historical document, original reggae tracks, a performance of Jonkanoo and BDSM vignettes borrowed from the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. Titled ‘Fifty Shades of Black’, it debuted at the Citizen’s Theatre in September and is on again at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow in December 2013.

SOURCE: http://www.iash.ed.ac.uk/people/fellows/profile/dr-michael-morris/

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