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Disputatious Societies

Sources for the Torrid Zone (c.1600-c.1720)

In the seventeenth century The Torrid Zone referred to the tropical heat to be found in the area which we would now call the Caribbean or the Antilles. It was a regionfar more extensive than that conceived of as the islands of the West Indies. It stretched from Cape Fear or Cape Hatteras in modern-day North Carolina (if you've visited the Roanoke landing site you'll know what I mean), south to Surinam on the Guianan coast of South America. In terms of the Anglophone region with which we are concerned, this then incorporates the Leeward Islands (particularly Antigua, St Christopher, Nevis, Montserrat and Anguilla), Windward Islands, such as St Lucia and St Vincent; Barbados; and from 1655 onwards, Jamaica in the Greater Antilles. Off the coast of Florida were the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos; off the coast of Panama was (briefly) Old Providence, or Providence Island; the Scots attempted a settlement at Darien on the Central American isthmus; and the Virginia settlers branched out with a settlement on the Somers Islands (Bermuda).

All differed one from another, and each had a distinctive terrain, pre-European history, demography and development. Nevertheless, they generated ideas, people, kin, economies, and history in common.

The history which survives of the 17th century British presence and their interactions with Africans and Americas within these territories is not as copious as it is for the 18th-century onwards, when the systems, organisations and state-tentacles had become established, and the systematic exploitation of the land was codified in so-called 'Plantation Society', and of people in the Slave Trade. However, there is a huge wealth of materials, scattered all over the world, which, when centrally collected and systematically explored, provide vivid fresh perspectives on Caribbean history.

A list of the archival materials that have been collected can be accessed through 'The Library'. There is also a wealth of visual material and visual representation of material and architectural culture.

During 2011 a research council bid will be made to the Economic and Social Research Council, for the resources to enter all of this material into ModesXML to create a searchable database available to designated scholars to fuel systematic and comparative histories of the region.

This portal page allows access to other research that has been carried out as part of the Disputatious Societies' project and to essays on general Caribbean subjects.

Click here for access to:

Disputatious Societies

Enabling fresh perspectives

Click on the image of the lizard, right, to see an outline of future proposals for development of the research.

The Library

Click on the image of the manuscript to view the list of manuscripts which can be accessed within Disputatious Societies.

Research and Publications

Here are links to the research output already published on the Torrid Zone in the 17th century, conference papes and work in progress.


This section offers a selection of less academic short pieces which describe travels to and society and politics in this region of the Americas.


In this section are some links to some of the archives' centres which have contributed to much of the material relating to the 17th century Caribbean.


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