The Caribbean Chronicles: Vol. 1 First Impressions
My grandmother used to say, “Shira, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. Make it a good one.” As with much of her advice, this pearl of wisdom has followed me through my life and continues to pop into the back of my mind when preparing for the first day of class, important meetings, presentations, and interviews. This idea is continually reinforced when I arrive in a new country and am formulating my initial impressions of my surroundings. My first observations and interactions with people in a new place often set the tenor of my forthcoming experience.
As most of you know, I have recently relocated to Jamaica for a one-year lectureship position at the University of the West Indies (UWI). Although I have worked in the British Virgin Isles and the Bahamas, this is my first time to Jamaica. From waiting to check-into my flight in London with three Jamaican women and their children, full of laughter, smiles, and playfulness, I have loved everything about Jamaica as a country, a culture, and a people. After living in the UK for the past three years, I am struck by the warm, open, curious, laid-back air of Jamaicans. They are friendly, helpful, easy to smile and engage in conversation. My new colleagues (a mix of English and Jamaicans) are exceedingly helpful and have made me feel welcome and at home in just a few short days.
There is a rich and complex cultural history on the island I am just beginning to scratch the surface of dating back to the pre-Columbian settlement of peoples from South America followed by European colonization and the establishment of Jamaica at the center of the global sugarcane industry. Jamaican Emancipation later occurred in 1838 and during the 1900’s, was home to a German POW camp during WWII. Jamaica gained independence from the United Kingdom August 6th, 1962. We celebrated Jamaica's Independence Day yesterday with live music at Devon House, former home of George Stiebel, Jamaica's first black millionaire in St. Andrew.
As many of you are undoubtedly aware, the impacts of climate change are becoming increasingly evident across the globe. Insular island environments, such as Jamaica, are more vulnerable to these impacts. I am particularly interested in using insights from pre-Columbian land use and fire management to provide a long-term perspective on sustainable human land use to inform future land and fire management policies on the island. I am very excited to develop interdisciplinary research collaborations with my new colleagues in the Caribbean Enthronements: Past and Present Research Group at UWI. Stay tuned to see our research progress in the upcoming months!