The Problem of Freedom in the Caribbean Short Title (for catalogue): Caribbean Freedom

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Rutgers University

Department of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies

595: 251

Long Title: The Problem of Freedom in the Caribbean

Short Title (for catalogue): Caribbean Freedom
[Semester TBA]

[Time and Location TBA]

Bend Down (1998), By Christopher Cozier
Professor: Yarimar Bonilla


Office Hours: TBA

Office location: LHCS, Rm A264


Although seemingly self-evident, notions like “Freedom” and “Sovereignty” are ambiguous, slippery, and difficult to define. These deceptively simple concepts often stand in as markers for more complicated arguments about our world and how we wish to live in it. In this class we will examine different ideas and arguments about Freedom (personal, political, and economic) in the Caribbean region. We will discuss how projects like abolitionism, nationalism, and neoliberalism have generated particular notions of free citizens, free societies, and free markets while foreclosing other political, social, and economic orders. Throughout the course we will examine how Caribbean populations have both navigated and challenged these normative ideals and projects and how they have struggled to forge their own ideas of what Freedom in the Caribbean might mean.


By the end of the semester, students who satisfactorily complete the course should be able to:

  • Describe and explain major events, processes and debates that have shaped Caribbean History and Politics.

  • Formulate and communicate complex ideas about Caribbean experiences of slavery, emancipation, political independence, and economic development by engaging with scholarly sources.

  • Provide an informed perspective on the history and politics of Caribbean societies across various time periods and linguistic regions in both written and spoken form.


  • Attendance/Class Participation: 10% - Attendance is mandatory. Any absences must be excused through the reporting website Unexcused absences will impact your class participation grade. In addition, you are expected to communicate with the instructor in a timely manner about any difficulties regarding the class, the assignments, or your individual projects. It is your responsibility to communicate any problems or challenges you are facing.

  • Weekly Reflection Posts 10% - You are required to post 10 short reflections (1-2 paragraphs) to the weekly Discussion Forum. The point of this assignment is to explore your “response” or “reaction” to the reading. You should focus on the elements that struck you or confused you, pose questions for either clarification or discussion, and make connections to previous class discussions. You are not expected to have completely mastered the reading, but you are expected to have some thoughts or questions about it. You should also read your classmates’ comments and be prepared to engage with them. No posts are due the first week, so you have 10 posts due over the course of 13 weeks. You are encouraged to begin submitting reflections at the start of the semester so that you have some flexibility during the latter part of the semester when workloads tend to increase.

  • In-class Mid Term Exam 25% - The in-class midterm will consist of fact-based short answer questions and a long answer (2-3 paragraphs) question prompt.

  • News Analysis Blog Post 25% - In the second half of the semester you will pick a news story item (from US news, foreign news, or Caribbean local news sources) and analyze it using the scholarly arguments discussed in class (Detailed instructions will be provided in class)

  • Take-home Final Essay 30% - The final exam will consist of several essay prompts. You will choose one prompt and submit your essay on the due date along with an outline of your paper. (Paper should be 5 pgs double spaced). You will receive instructions in class on how to effectively generate outlines to help you conceptualize and organize your paper


  • Students are expected to abide by Rutgers University’s policy on academic integrity: Violations of the policy include: cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, denying others access to information or material, and facilitating violations of academic integrity.

  • Students are expected to attend all classes; if you expect to miss one or two classes, please use the University absence reporting website to indicate the date and reason for your absence. Please Note: Students with more than three absences are subject to having their final grade lowered. Students will not receive credit for late assignments.

  • Laptops and mobile phones are not allowed in class. Students who are browsing the Internet or using their phones during class will be asked to leave.


(Additional readings will be posted on Sakai)

    • Morgan, Edmund S. 1975. American slavery, American freedom: the Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: Norton. ISBN-10: 9780393324945

    • Wood, Marcus. 2010. The Horrible Gift of Freedom: Atlantic Slavery and the Representation of Emancipation. Athens: University of Georgia Press. ISBN-10: 0820334278

    • Sweig, Julia. 2009. Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford University Press.  ISBN-10: 0199896704


Week 1 Introduction: Imagining Freedom as a Problem

This week we will discuss the major themes of the course and its objectives. We will examine normative ideas of Freedom and discuss what it means to imagine concepts like Freedom as both a “Project” and a “Problem”.
Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 2004. “The North Atlantic Universals.” In The Modern World-System in the Longue Durée, edited by Immanuel Wallerstein, 229–38. Boulder: Paradigm.

Holt, Thomas C. 1992. The problem of freedom: race, labor, and politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832-1938. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press [Preface]

Weeks 2 & 3. Freedom and Enslavement

During these two weeks we will discuss the entwinement of Freedom and Slavery by examining the place of slavery within the political project of the U.S. founding fathers.

Top of Form

    • Morgan, Edmund S. 1975. American slavery, American freedom: the Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: Norton. [selections]

Week 4. Unthinkable Freedom

This week we will examine how and why it was “unthinkable” for enslaved populations to have the capacity or right to assert their freedom by discussing the events of the Haitian Revolution.

  • Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. 1995. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston, Mass: Beacon Press. [selections]

Week 5. The limits of Codified Freedom

This week we will examine how populations who were legally “free” during the era of slavery were still constrained by the racial orders and institutional structures that shaped plantation society.

    • Reid-Vazquez, Michele. 2011. The Year of the Lash: Free People of Color in Cuba and the Nineteenth-century Atlantic World. Athens: University of Georgia Press. [selections]

Week 6. Fugitive Freedom

This week we will examine the communities built by runaway slaves and how they offered a particular view of within the context of colonial slave societies.

    • Bilby, Kenneth M. 2005. True-born maroons. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. [selections]

Week 7 Midterm Review and & in-Class Midterm

Week 8 & 9 The Gift of Freedom

During these two weeks we will discuss Abolition and Emancipation as political projects and critically examine their representations and legacies.
Wood, Marcus. 2010. The Horrible Gift of Freedom: Atlantic Slavery and the Representation of Emancipation. Athens: University of Georgia Press. [selections]

Hartman, Saidiya V. 1997. Scenes of subjection: terror, slavery, and self-making in nineteenth-century America. New York: Oxford University Press. [selections]

Week 10. Foreclosed Projects

With attention to previous discussions of the “unthinkable” Haitian Revolution, this week we will examine how the Cuban War of Independence was transformed into the “Spanish American War.”
Ferrer, Ada. 1999. Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868-1898. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. [selections]
Week 11 The Search for Sovereignty

Building on the previous week’s discussion we will continue to discuss Cuba’s Political history by examining the context and political project of the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

    • Sweig, Julia. 2009. Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York: Oxford University Press

Week 12 Forgotten Freedom

Building on pervious conversations about “foreclosed projects” and “silenced” histories, this

week we will examine the “forgotten” history of the Grenadian Revolution
Puri, Shalini. 2014. The Grenada Revolution in the Caribbean Present: Operation Urgent Memory. New York: Palgrave [selections]
Week 13. Neoliberal Freedom

This week we will examine the economic possibilities that have become available to Caribbean populations in the context of neoliberal, global economics.

  • Freeman, Carla. 2000. High Tech and High Heels in the Global Economy: Women, Work, and Pink-collar Identities in the Caribbean. Durham, NC: Duke University Press [selections]

Week 14. Non-Sovereign Futures

We end the course by examining contemporary political projects in the Caribbean. In the wake of disenchantment with the different political projects discussed over the course of the semester (Abolitionist Freedom, Postcolonial Sovereignty, Neoliberal Free Market Reforms, etc) how do Caribbean Populations imagine their possibilities for the future?

  • Bonilla, Yarimar. 2015. Non-Sovereign Futures: French Caribbean Politics in the Wake of Disenchantment. University of Chicago Press. [selections]

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