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Professor Christer Petley 

Professor of Atlantic History

Professor Christer Petley's photo

Christer Petley is Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Southampton.

I am a historian with interests in Atlantic history, British imperial history, and Caribbean studies. My work has focused on the histories and legacies of slavery in the Americas, mainly on slave societies in the British Caribbean. My particular area of expertise is the history of colonial settlers and slaveholders, and I have published work on the history of the Jamaican planter class.

My research has combined the perspectives and techniques of social, political, and cultural history to explore transatlantic connections between the Caribbean and Europe during the long eighteenth century, examining society and culture in the British West Indies, the British debate over slavery, and the transformations that reshaped the British empire in the period after the American Revolution.

I have published two single-authored books, as well as several edited collections, and a number of journal articles. My most recent book, White Fury, examines the life and times of an extraordinarily powerful and influential slaveholder, as well as explaining the struggles and debates about slavery and abolition that reshaped the British Empire during the Age of Revolutions.

I am a member and former Chair of the UK Society for Caribbean Studies.

Research interests

I have published on various aspects of Caribbean and British-Atlantic history, including two books about slaveholders in Jamaica. I have published peer-reviewed journal articles on slaveholder culture, proslavery politics, and free people of colour in Jamaica.

My recent work has focused mainly on the sugar planters of the British West Indies, one of the wealthiest and most influential groups within the eighteenth-century British empire. My latest book, White Fury, is based mainly on the correspondence of a particularly wealthy and powerful planter, Simon Taylor of Jamaica: a prolific letter writer. It describes the life and times of this outspoken and opulent sugar magnate whilst making sense of his furious responses to the American Revolution, to the rise of a British abolition movement, and to new forms of slave resistance.

My research has engaged with recent scholarship on abolitionism, the politics of empire, and British national identity, and it has explored the ways in which planters responded to new threats to their material investments, political power and status within the empire. I have also written on colonial material culture and, more recently, about the politics of slavery’s archive—looking at how documents like probate inventories can help us to understand slaveholding culture and the bureaucratic techniques underpinning colonial slavery.

I have also become interested in the political cultures of enslaved people and am hoping to do new research on the history of the Baptist War in Jamaica (1831-32)—a huge slave uprising that helped shape the debates that led to the dismantling of the British slave system during the 1830s.

Research project(s)

The Fall of the Planter Class in the British Atlantic World

Dr Christer Petley (History) is working on a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, exploring the dramatic decline in the wealth and power of planters in the British empire at the end of the eighteenth century.

Slavery and revolution

For more than ten years, Christer has researched the life and world of Simon Taylor (1739-1813), a Jamaican sugar planter who claimed ownership over 2,248 enslaved people. Taylor was one of the wealthiest slaveholders  ever to have lived in the British empire.

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by Christer Petley
White Fury



Book Chapters

I currently teach undergraduate modules on racism and resistance, the British Atlantic world, and slave emancipation as well as making contributions to MA modules on the eighteenth century and on American history.

I would welcome enquiries from prospective students interested in doing postgraduate research on aspects of Atlantic History, slavery in the Americas, the history of the British Caribbean, or on related themes.

Professor Christer Petley
Building 65 Faculty of Arts and Humanities University of Southampton Avenue Campus Highfield Southampton SO17 1BF United Kingdom

Room Number : 65/2081

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