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France and the American Tropics to 1700: Tropics of Discontent?by Philip P. Boucher
Synopses & Reviews
Traditionally, the story of the Greater Caribbean has been dominated by the narrative of Iberian hegemony, British colonization, the plantation regime, and the Haitian Revolution of the eighteenth century. Relatively little is known about the society and culture of this region — and particularly France's role in them — in the two centuries prior to the rise of the plantation complex of the eighteenth century. Here, historian Philip P. Boucher offers the first comprehensive account of colonization and French society in the Caribbean.
Boucher's analysis contrasts the structure and character of the French colonies with that of other colonial empires. Describing the geography, topography, climate, and flora and fauna of the region, Boucher recreates the tropical environment in which colonists and indigenous peoples interacted. He then examines the lives and activities of the region's inhabitants — the indigenous Island Caribs, landowning settlers, indentured servants, African slaves, and people of mixed blood, the gens de couleur. He argues that the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were not merely a prelude to the classic plantation regime model. Rather, they were an era presenting a variety of possible outcomes. This original narrative demonstrates that the transition to sugar and the plantation complex was more gradual in the French properties than generally depicted — and that it was not inevitable.
Book News Annotation:
It was a monarchy, and most monarchies of the time were bent on collecting and exploiting the bits that added up to empires. France's bits included parts of Central America and the West Indies, and settlers included African slaves. France's greatest rival in the region was probably disease, although Spain mattered and the English were also a thorn in the side. The rigors of settlement, which proved disastrous for the natives, led eventually to a landed proprietorship, a slave class, and both free and coerced laborers. France's convoluted domestic politics reached all the way to the islands, causing an equally complex social structure and some question as to whether the Francophone Caribbean would be based on cultivation of sugar cane. Boucher (history, U. of Alabama at Huntsville) makes the most of an unusual field of study so we can make sense of the power shifts and revolutions to come. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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History and Social Science » Latin America » Caribbean