HEATHER-LYNN’S HABITAT: Historians face hurdles
A RETIRED HEAD of a History department has bemoaned the fact that History appears to be a dying subject while a fellow historian has lambasted schools for not putting more books by local authors on slavery in schools.
The two, Trevor Marshall, the retired head of the Barbados Community College’s History Department, and Professor Emeritus Alvin Thompson, of the University of the West Indies, were speaking as another historian, Morris Greenidge, launched his latest book Just Call Me Madam at the Old Spirit Bond on Tuesday.
In responding to a question from history teacher Annette Maynard-Watson who queried whether Greenidge had a plan for introducing his newest work into schools, Greenidge replied: “If the book is going to get into the schools, this book will get into the schools. But I am not going to be frustrated at trying to tilt at windmills.
“This is my fourth book and Dr Thompson’s fifth or sixth book, and I don’t think he has got one in schools yet, and he has been writing a long time before me.”
Professor Thompson then detailed the horrors he had experienced in getting his work not only into schools but into local bookshops as well.
He traced it back to when the Caribbean Examination Council’s (CXC) examinations were first introduced about 30 years ago.
“There is a fault of resistance in this society that is amazing and appalling. It really is a situation that goes two or three decades back when history was first being introduced into the school as part of CXC that the only books available were those that were produced by expatriate publishers,” he noted.
He said the resistance was not only at the level of ministries of education, but at the bookshops, the owners or operators of which refuse to stock books on the theme.
“I have had great trouble in getting arguably our biggest bookshop to carry my books on slavery although they are not written in a polemical way. This is the problem we have that they don’t buy the books,” Professor Thompson said.
“The latest one was released earlier this week and I had fought with the person in charge. She tells me they don’t carry single authored books and I am amazed because I see them all the time,” he said.
The retired history professor further said the issue of getting books on the curriculum was also a problem in other Caribbean territories.
Greenidge’s and Thompson’s comments drew a response from historian Marshall who declared there was a problem with getting new books on history into schools.
Declaring that “history in schools was moribund” and was more of an option than a core subject, Marshall told those gathered at the Spirit Bond Mall “that area has been commandeered by Shepherd and Beckles, both high-ranking UWI professional historians . . . and you dare not advance another book”.
“What I will suggest,” he said to Maynard-Watson, “is that you may need to speak to your colleagues in your school who teach literature because this is a novel, this is a work of fiction and there is a growing group of study on the Caribbean dealing with history from a particular perspective, that of the Caribbean historical novel.”