Workshop: Sugar and Slaves on its 50th Anniversary

Monday and Tuesday 28-29 June 2021

Co-sponsored by the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania and the Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull


The Wilberforce Institute is delighted to be co-hosting this major two-day workshop on Richard S. Dunn’s Sugar and Slaves with the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Established as the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies in 1978, and renamed in honour of its benefactor Robert L. McNeil, Jr., in 1998, the McNeil Center facilitates scholarly inquiry into the histories and cultures of North America in the Atlantic world before 1850, with a particular but by no means exclusive emphasis on the mid-Atlantic region.

2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dunn’s Sugar and Slaves, which has become one of the foundational books in the writing of Caribbean and Atlantic history. His highly evocative work opened up an entire field of study. Since its publication, historians have both deepened our understanding of subjects first developed in Dunn’s work and, inspired by his scholarship, have turned to new topics entirely. 

The workshop will be based around pre-circulated papers, which will be forwarded to you soon after 7 June if you have registered. For the provisional programme see below. 

For more information and to register for the workshop, please visit:

Monday 28 June 2021

Please note that all times are Eastern Standard Time (UTC-5; BST-5)

10:00-10:15 AM     
Introduction and Welcome

Emma Hart and Daniel K. Richter, McNeil Center and University of Pennsylvania

10:15-10:30 AM     
Reflections on Sugar and Slaves, I:

Hilary Beckles, University of the West Indies

10:30 AM-12:00 PM     
Session One The Environment:

Chair: Trevor Burnard, Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

Mary S. Draper, Midwestern State University
“Winds, Lived Geographies, and Empire Building in the Seventeenth-Century British Caribbean”
Justin Roberts, Dalhousie University
“‘Corruption of the Air’: Disease and Climate Change in the Rise of English Caribbean Slavery”
Jordan Smith, Widener University
“‘The Native Produce of this Island’: Processes of Invention in Early Barbados”

12:00-1:00 PM 
Lunch Break

1:00-2:00 PM
Session Two Other Contexts
Chair: Daniel K. Richter, McNeil Center and University of Pennsylvania

Peter C. Mancall, University of Southern California
“The First Age of Revolution”
Michiel van Groesen, Leiden University
“The Anglo-Dutch Lake? Johannes de Laet and the Ideological Origins of the Dutch and English West Indies” 

Tuesday 29 June 2021

10:15-10:30 AM
Reflections on Sugar and Slaves, III
Nicholas Canny, National University of Ireland, Galway

10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Session Four Economies:
Chair: Emma Hart, McNeil Center and University of Pennsylvania

Paul Musselwhite, Dartmouth College
“`Plantation’ and the Rise of Capitalist Agriculture in the Early Seventeenth-Century Caribbean”
Teanu Reid, Yale University
“Financial Life in the Tropics”
Nuala Zahedieh, Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull
“The progress of `King Sugar’ in early English Jamaica” 

12:00-1:00 PM
Lunch Break

1:00-2:00 PM
Session 5 Slavery panel I: Origins

Chair: Alison Games, Georgetown University

Casey Schmitt, Cornell University
“‘They brought them from the Palenque’: Captivity and Smuggling in Jamaica, ca. 1660”
Holly Brewer, University of Maryland
“Not ‘Beyond the line’: Reconsidering Law, Power ad Empire in the origins of slavery in the Early English Empire”


2:30-4:00 PM
Session 6 Slavery panel II: Runaways, Marronage

Chair: Sheryllynne Haggerty, Wilberforce Institute, University of Hull

Clifton Sorrell, University of Texas
“‘Ne Plus Ultra’: The Maroons and the Contested Conquest and Geography of Early Jamaica–– 1655-1690”
Simon P. Newman, University of Wisconsin
“The Barbados Planter Class and the Normalization of Slavery and Resistance in Restoration London”
Linda Rupert, UNC Greensboro
“Intertwined Geographies of Marronage and Empire in the Seventeenth-Century Circum-Caribbean”

4:00-4:15 PM
Reflections on Sugar and Slaves, IV:

Roderick McDonald, Rider University

4:15-4:45 PM 
Wrap up, with remarks from Richard Dunn, University of Pennsylvania  

Richard S. Dunn, Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor Emeritus, University of Pennsylvania, with two of his editions of Sugar & Slaves