CSA’s Gordon K. and Sybil Farrell Lewis Award 2020-2021

This year, the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) chose two co-winners for the Gordon K. and Sybil Farrell Lewis Award 2020-2021, which was presented on June 4, 2021, at the 45th Annual CSA Conference in Georgetown, Guyana. The co-winners are Deborah A. Thomas (Jamaica) for Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation, and Bernardo Vega (Dominican Republic) for La cuestión racial y el proyecto dominicano de anexión a Estados Unidos en 1870. [See descriptions below.]

Honorable mentions were awarded to Njelle Hamilton for Phonographic Memories, Popular Music and the Contemporary Caribbean Novel (Rutgers University Press, 2019) and Aaron Kamugisha for Beyond Coloniality: Citizenship and Freedom in the Caribbean Intellectual Tradition (Indiana University Press, 2019).

Descriptions:

Deborah A. Thomas: Political Life in the Wake of the Plantation: Sovereignty, Witnessing, Repair. Duke University Press 2019.

Thomas investigates the facts and the impact of the violent incursion in Tivoli Gardens, a neighborhood in Kingston, to find the drug dealer and criminal Christopher Coke for delivering him to the USA, in the week of 24 May 2010. This incursion, led by Jamaican and US- security forces, caused a wave of unknown violence and the death of up to two hundred (exact numbers are not known) citizens.

The author divides her book in three parts: Doubt; Expectancy; and Paranoia, after which comes the Coda, an epilogue in which many stories told before become intertwined with Thomas’s own life. She tells how she walks through the neighborhood naming its locations, relating them to Jamaica’s history, and talking with witnesses about the state of emergency during this “Operation Garden Paris”, whose photos illustrate the first part of the book. In her opinion, the criticism on the violence and racism of colonial history by the Rastafari, who first were against any state institutional power, set the ground for criticism against contemporary state violence in independent Jamaica. Thomas chooses her words carefully and never ends up using stereotypical judgments. Her way of observing without giving an explicit judgment but, indirectly, by organizing her archival material, leaves no doubt about her position on this matter. In this way, she makes the shift from reparation to “repair” in conditions of marronage (like the Rastafari), which foregrounds a more robust sense of ethics and justice.

Thomas grew up in Jamaica. She made a film on the Rastafari, Bad Friday, about the incursion of Coral Gardens by state forces in 1963. She explains her excellent contacts and long-time research as an anthropologist and visual ethnographer for making the claim for a new methodology of archiving and repair to narrate and overcome such traumatic events. Her archiving includes visual, sonic, and textual work, defined as a “transmedial reading”. Her book excels because of the richness of her political and cultural expertise on Jamaica and beyond, as well as of the very intelligent intertwining of different methodological approaches in consideration of this traumatic event. Thomas is a professor for Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Center for Experimental Ethnography at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bernardo Vega: La cuestión racial y el proyecto dominicano de anexión a Estados Unidos en 1870. Academia Dominicana de la Historia 2019.

Vega presents a historical study, which documents the interests of the country of the stars and stripes with respect to the Caribbean territories. The question was about annexation, not only for the Dominican Republic (since 1844) but also for Cuba and Haiti. In this sense, Vega testifies of the important role of the “racial question” as one of the main motives that prompted U.S. presidents like Ulysses Grant to contemplate some Caribbean islands as ideal territories to be populated by enslaved African descendants native to the United States, as it had been the case for Liberia and Sierra Leone at the West Coast of Africa.

The book starts in 1844, when the Dominican president of the recently independent country (after occupation by Haiti), Pedro Santana, wrote a letter to the President of the United States, asking for recognizing his country as an independent republic. Santana also established ties with European countries and, immediately, the question of annexation was always in the (secret) air due to the fear of Haiti. The author shows that this menace overshadowed almost all the diplomatic negotiations until 1870, when annexation was definitely rejected by the government of the USA.

Of course, 1870 is not the end of similar diplomatic negotiations but by showing how much it influenced those decades since the beginning of independence, Vega fills in a gap. He is a well-known Dominican historian and his handling of archival sources, quoting many fragments of diplomatic correspondence, as well as the images and illustrations that accompany the book speak of his unquestionable expertise as a historian of great craft. In contrast to Deborah Thomas, who follows the contemporary discussion on the changes in the discursive expression of race, Vega is a traditional historian, who does not problematize such nineteenth-century concepts in his writing. However, because of his impressive career and of being a historian in the Spanish-speaking realm, his book is considered to be an important and original contribution to Caribbean history, which invites to further research and, once again, documents the relevance of racism for geo-political issues in this region.

Vega, is a Dominican writer, economist, historian, anthropologist, university professor, political scientist, and sociologist.12 Vega is recognized for his contributions to academia and the public sector in the Dominican Republic. He is currently president of the Dominican Academy of History. He is one of the most prolific authors in the Dominican Republic, his bibliography is composed of approximately fifty titles and covers the fields of history, anthropology and economics. He has also compiled important documents on the Rafael Trujillo dictatorship and his relationship with the United States government.

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