Books  General Natural History  Environmental History 

The West Indies: Patterns of Development, Culture and Environmental Change Since 1492

By: D Watts

632 pages, B/w photos, tabs

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Mar 1990 | #8141 | ISBN: 0521386519
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NHBS Price: £50.99 $66/€57 approx

About this book

This magisterial survey of the historical geography of the West Indies is at bottom concerned with the causes and consequences of three complex and inter-related phenomena: the rapid and total removal of a large aboriginal population; the development of plantation agriculture and the arrival of enforced labour, in the form of many thousands of African slaves; and the environmental, ecological and cultural changes that resulted. Dr Watts shows how the initial European vision of a land of plenty has been replaced by an awareness of the geographic and ecological fragiliaty of the area, and explains how the exploitative agricultural systems of the colonial and recent West Indies have not adjusted to the demands of the environment. An enormous array of historical, biological and literary sources are marshalled in support of Dr Watts' analysis, which is likely to remain the standard work on the subject for many years to come.

A well-known British biographer has collected from original fieldwork and intensive library research a wide range of detailed historical and environmental material about the Caribbean islands, from their earliest occupation to the present. Inevitably, the principal theme is sugar and how it influenced not only the islands but the policies of the colonial powers for more than 300 years. Just as important are the consequences for each pristine island environment of introducing successions of foreign plants and animals. A nearly flawless supplemented by a large number of well-constructed maps, tables, and model diagrams. Choice "...[Watts] takes as his subject a region where the impact of Europeans on nature was particularly marked, both because they encountered a fragile ecology, and because at first they focused their rapaciousness on just a few islands. The resulting book, The West Indies, demonstrates impressively the potential of environmental history." Times Literary Supplement "David Watts has managed to capture both the complexity and the simplicity of Caribbean development and weave them together in a remarkable study that covers the region as a whole over the entire span of its modern history." Dale W. Tomich, Forest & Conservation History


List of illustrations; Preface; Notes and abbreviations; 1. The environment; 2. Aboriginal peoples: settlement and culture; 3. Spanish intrusion and colonisation; 4. Early northwest European plantations; 5. Northwest European sugar estates: the formative period, 1645 to 1665; 6. The extension of the West Indian sugar estate economy, 1665 to 1833: I General development and trade; 7. The extension of the West Indian sugar estate economy, 1665 to 1833: II Sugar production, regional population growth, and the slave-white ratios; 8. The extension of the West Indian sugar estate economy, 1665 to 1833: III Population: social characteristics, migration and the growth of towns; 9. The extension of the West Indian sugar estate economy, 1665 to 1833: IV Agricultural innovation and environmental change; 10. Post-1833 adjustments: the period to 1900; 11. Twentieth-century trends, and conclusions; Notes; References.

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