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The University of Southampton
Southampton Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies

Rethinking the Fall of the Planter Class

Published: 18 January 2012

This issue of Atlantic Studies began life as a one-day conference held at Chawton House Library in Hampshire, UK, and funded by the University of Southampton.

The conference aimed, like this issue, to bring together scholars currently working on the history of the British West Indian planter class in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and to discuss how, when, and why the fortunes of the planters went into decline. As this introduction notes, the difficulties faced by the planter class in the British West Indies from the 1780s onwards were an early episode in a wider drama of decline for New World plantation economies. The American historian Lowell Ragatz published the first detailed historical account of their fall. His work helped to inform the influential arguments of Eric Williams, which were later challenged by Seymour Drescher. Recent research has begun to offer fresh perspectives on the debate about the decline of the planters, and this collection brings together articles taking a variety of new approaches to the topic, encompassing economic, political, cultural, and social history.

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