L.H. Roper is Professor of History at the State University of New York at New Paltz. This interview is based on his recently edited book The Torrid Zone: Caribbean Colonization and Cultural Interaction in the Long Seventeenth Century Caribbean (University of South Carolina Press, 2018).
JF: What led you to write The Torrid Zone?
LHR: In 2012, I began a correspondence with Laurie Wood (now at Florida State) in which we lamented both the perennially secondary position the Caribbean occupies in our understanding of ‘colonial America’ and the particular lack of a comparative treatment of the history of the region’s colonization by Europeans. We decided to do something about this state of affairs and we began recruiting ‘partners in crime’. Happily, there are a number of young and talented historians who are working on the Caribbean whom we were able to recruit along with several ‘seasoned veterans’.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Torrid Zone?
LHR: The agendas and behavior of Native people had a significant effect on Caribbean history well into the eighteenth century. The Torrid Zone, particularly by virtue of the global extension of the personalities involved in its colonization and their conceptions of society and politics, constituted a fully representative, but not especially distinctive, manifestation of the sensibilities at work in European overseas colonization.
JF: Why do we need to read The Torrid Zone?
LHR: The contributions are filled with insights on the history of the seventeenth-century Caribbean generally and of places such as Jamaica and Suriname particularly. Since this region constituted the primary target of European interest in the Western Hemisphere at this time, it is impossible to have helpful understanding of the expansion of European interests, including the colonization of North America, or the cultural interactions that this expansion generated—and the effects of these phenomena—without some knowledge of what went on in the Torrid Zone. The essays also shed helpful light on the networks of merchants and political figures—operating both in the Caribbean and outside of it—who managed European operations in the region and who extended their social and political influence elsewhere. Readers will learn a good deal about the Native agendas and responses to European activity in the Torrid Zone as well.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
LHR: Although I was trained nominally as an American historian, I regard myself primarily as a historian of the expansion of overseas European (particularly English) interests and of the cultural interactions this generated. While I was in graduate school during the ‘Pleistocene Era’, it dawned on me that the best way to comprehend ‘early American history’ was through a better understanding of the social and political worlds in which overseas traders and colonizers operated, from which colonists (and colonizers) derived their worldviews, and with which colonists (perhaps to a surprising degree) maintained close social, political, and economic associations. This view has only strengthened over the course of my career.
JF: What is your next project?
LHR: I hope to begin work on two (having just finished two books in the past year). The first is a further investigation of English involvement in the ‘Guinea trade’ and the other is an examination of the European colonization of the region bounded by the Connecticut and Susquehanna Rivers and Chesapeake Bay between 1636 (the founding of the Connecticut colony) and 1741 (the Treaty of Lancaster).
JF: Thanks, Louis!