Picturing the West India Regiments

The West India Regiments were British military units recruited from men of African descent that served in the Caribbean and West Africa.

My PhD research project focuses on images captured by and of the soldiers of the West India Regiments with the aim of discovering how these images reflected and shaped ideas about race in the Caribbean. I also use the photographs to learn more about the relationships between those of African and European descent in the Caribbean and West Africa.

The period covered by my research project coincides with the beginning of scientific racism for which photography was an important method of documentation and dissemination.  Also important to this period was the backdrop of feared and actual racialised unrest.

These undertones of racialised thought and racialised violence coincided with the beginning of attempts to refashion the Caribbean islands as picturesque “tropical” paradises, leading to complex portrayals of black bodies and the landscapes they inhabited.

I am taking a broad approach to decipher how the regiments were portrayed as Black military bodies before embarking on a series of case studies.

Case studies explore the photographic portrayals of the regiments’ racially diverse soldiers after the rebellion at Morant Bay in 1865, photographs of the West India Regiments taken during campaigns in Sierra Leone, and tracing the connections between photographs of the West India Regiments and attempts to advertise the region’s landscapes and people to tourists.

My research is based on a three-staged analysis of photographs looking at them firstly as visual images, secondly as objects, and thirdly (where appropriate) as commodities that were circulated and exchanged.

My sources include photographs produced for a wide range of contexts including personal photograph albums, commercial photographs, and postcards from collections across the UK, USA, and Caribbean.

For further information about my research please visit my university web page or my Instagram and tumblr pages where I regularly discuss images that I have come across and my experiences as a doctoral researcher, using the links below in my profile box.

PhD Thesis: Africa's Sons Under Arms: Race, Military Bodies and the British West India Regiments in the Atlantic World: 1795-1914

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Melissa Bennett

Melissa Bennett

Melissa Bennett

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9 Comments On “Picturing the West India Regiments”

  1. This is a really interesting and important piece of work. I don't know very much about the topic  but will definitely be following your updates and wish you all the best with your studies.

  2. I think it's fanstastic to put the spotlight on these forgotten soldiers but even better to bring their history to life through images. I have already looked at some of your work on Instagram and will be following your research project with great interest!

  3. Inspiring work and thank you for this valuable contribution. 

  4. Hi Melissa, This looks very interesting. Are you using the CO1069 series (or any others) from The National Archives? If so I'd be really interested to learn more about your research on them. 

  5. Eleanor Grant-Wallace

    My Grandfather from Jamaica served in the West India Regiment for both World Wars. he died at age 99 in 1985 and was honored each year until then, as the oldest veteran of both wars in Jamaica on our National Heroes Day each October. I have some images you may be interested in seeing . Please feel free to email me. Regards,  Eleanor 

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