History Slam Episode Forty-Five: Verene Shepherd and Women’s History in the Caribbean

By Sean Graham

This is the first episode in our series of podcasts recorded at the 2014 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women. The conference was held May 22-25 at the University of Toronto.

As an undergrad, I had the opportunity to spend a year studying at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. At the time it was a pretty easy decision to go – I love North Bay, but the chance to trade Lake Nipissing for the Caribbean Sea was too good to pass up. When I first arrived I was picked up at the airport by two students from the student’s union and I distinctly remember that as we headed towards campus, I could barely understand the two of them as they spoke to each other. Of course my initial reaction to this was that if the lectures are anything like that, I would flunk out pretty quickly. Fortunately, I managed to pick up on the accents around campus and had a productive year. Over the course of the year, things like TNT BBQ Hut, Natalie Gonzalez, and the Texaco Station were things that came to define Barbados for me personally. Academically, though, I was stuck by the high caliber work coming out of UWI.

The University of the West Indies spans three campuses – the Mona Campus in Jamaica, the St. Augustine in Tinidad and Tobago, and the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados. Each campus has its own specialty and serves students from across the region. In terms of history, between the three campuses, UWI is home to some of the top historians in the world – a list that includes Hilary Beckles and Swithin Wilmot.

Of all the stuff I came across, however, the one name that continued to show up on my reading lists was Verene Shepherd. Professor Shepherd is currently the Director of the Institute for Gender & Development Studies at the University of West Indies, Mona Campus, Her publications include I Want to Disturb my Neighbour, Livestock, Sugar and Slavery: Contested Terrain in Colonial Jamaica, and Engendering History: Caribbean Women in Historical Perspectives. She is also the host of weekly radio program entitled Talking History, which airs Saturday mornings in Jamaica and can be streamed through Nationwide 90FM.

In this episode of the History Slam podcast, I talk with Professor Shepherd about women’s history in the Caribbean. We chat about how women’s history is taught in schools, efforts to get more women in leadership positions, the impact of the region’s nationalist movements on the women’s movement, and concepts of race.

Sean Graham is a doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa where he is currently working on a project that examines the early years of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He has previously studied at Nipissing University, the University of the West Indies, and the University of Regina and like any red-blooded Canadian his ultimate dream is to be a curling champion while living on a diet of beer and poutine.

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