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Why does Edward Long’s History of Jamaica matter? Written in 1774, Long’s History, that most ‘civilised’ of documents, attempted to define White and Black as essentially different and unequal. Long deployed natural history and social theory, carefully mapping the island, and drawing on poetry and engravings, in his efforts to establish a clear and fixed racialized hierarchy. His White family sat at the heart of Jamaican planter society and the West India trade in sugar, which provided the economic bedrock of this eighteenth-century system of racial capitalism. Catherine Hall tells the story behind the History of a slave-owning family that prospered across generations together with the destruction of such possibilities for enslaved people. She unpicks the many contradictions in Long's thinking, exposing the insidious myths and stereotypes that have poisoned social relations over generations and allowed reconfigured forms of racial difference and racial capitalism to live on in contemporary societies.

Catherine Hall is Emerita Professor of History at University College London and a prize-winning author. Her work focuses on Britain and empire, and includes Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830–1867 (2002), Macaulay and Son: Architects of Imperial Britain (2012), and Legacies of British Slave-Ownership: Colonial Slavery and the Formation of Victorian Britain (co-authored with Nicholas Draper et al.; Cambridge, 2014). Between 2009 and 2015 she was the principal investigator on the ESRC/AHRC project ‘Legacies of British Slave-ownership'.

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