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Irish lives in the British Caribbean: engaging with Empire in the Revolutionary Era
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 19:52 authored by Jennifer A. McLaren
This thesis examines the Irish experience of empire in the British Caribbean during the Revolutionary Era by means of ten individual biographies of Irish sojourners. The thesis builds upon Irish historiography which addresses Ireland’s place in the British Empire, and also seeks a place within British imperial historiography, which has often neglected the role of Irish people in the Empire. Each chapter focuses on a separate social sphere—the Military, Commerce, Administration and Humanitarianism, and includes profiles of non-elite men. The thesis explores the relationship between the men’s Irish identities and the imperial structures within which they fashioned their Caribbean lives. For most, a connection with Ireland was important, but as the men were involved in an array of imperial projects, their Irish identity was just one of a number of interlocking cultural spaces they inhabited. The thesis interrogates how biography enables the historian to advance an argument about the past and suggests that combining a spatial approach with biography can provide thorough, multi-dimensional contextualisation. The thesis adapts the geographer David Harvey’s spatial model and analyses the absolute, relative and relational spaces the sojourners inhabited, and the tensions within and between those spaces. A close study of the spaces the men inhabited, the networks and exchanges that shaped their lives, and the internal spaces of their ideas and emotions, produces a nuanced understanding of the imperial world in which they lived, and their experience of empire. The Irish sojourners navigated family, mercantile and administrative networks, as well as broader British and trans-imperial connections in the region. Although not exclusively Irish characteristics, the men in this thesis shared a tenacious nature and the ability to withstand conflict. Many pursued trans-imperial opportunities and engaged with more than one empire simultaneously. Their experiences confirm the porous nature of imperial boundaries in the region, the contingent and varied experience of imperial rule, and the asymmetries of power that existed across different sites in the British Caribbean.