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Professor Christer Petley 

Professor and Director of Admissions and Recruitment, School of Humanities

Professor Christer Petley's photo

Professor Christer Petley is a Professor in 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 social and cultural 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 a monograph as well as a number of journal articles, I have recently launched the website Slavery and Revolution, which is an electronic resource for students, teachers, and researchers with interests in slavery and Atlantic history.
I am a member and former Chair of the UK Society for Caribbean Studies and a member of the Association of Caribbean Historians.

Research interests

I have published on various aspects of Caribbean and British-Atlantic history, including a book - Slaveholders in Jamaica - about colonial society and culture during the early nineteenth century as well as articles on free people of colour in Jamaica, planter identity, and proslavery politics.

My current project is about the sugar planters of the British West Indies, one of the wealthiest groups in the British empire, who wielded considerable political influence for much of the eighteenth century. During the half century after 1783, however, this group faced economic reversals and diminished political power. Their decline is an important episode in Caribbean and British imperial history and studying it can improve our understanding of the revolutionary changes that transformed the British empire and the Atlantic world in the period after the American War of Independence. My project on the fall of the planter class is funded by an AHRC Early Career Fellowship and focuses on the correspondence of a particularly wealthy and powerful planter, Simon Taylor of Jamaica, who was also a prolific letter writer.

My research engages with recent scholarship on abolitionism, the politics of empire, and British national identity. It explores the ways in which planters responded to new threats to their material investments, political power and status within the empire, including the rise of the British antislavery movement and the emergence of new forms of slave resistance. It also looks at the ways that planters sought to reconfigure the defence of their interests. Despite their decline, this group maintained some influence within the transatlantic debates about empire and slavery and were able to postpone and shape reforms to the British-Atlantic slave system.

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
Slaveholders in Jamaica



Book Chapters

I currently teach undergraduate courses on the history of empire, the British Atlantic world, and slave emancipation, as well as an MA course on Atlantic slavery.

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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