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The Legacy of Caribbean Colonialism

Laura McAtackney has received a grant of DKK 5.7 million from the Independent Research Fund Denmark to study the experience, legacy and memory of Danish colonialism in the Caribbean.

Black painted handprints decorate a boarded up colonial building in Christiansted, St Croix (Photo: Laura McAtackney).
The derelict Faengslet (or Richmond Penitentiary) is situated in the Richmond district of Christiansted, St Croix. It was the first prison built in the Danish West Indies (1834) and was the state penitentiary for the islands until the 1960s. It is still officially designated as 'Faengslet' on the St Croix maps (photo: Laura McAtackney)

A collaborative archaeological project between Denmark and St Croix in the US Virgin Islands will examine the substantial material remains of Danish colonialism on the island that continue to communicate its connections to Denmark.  

“During the centenary of the sale of the Danish West Indies to the US in 2017, it became clear there was a disjuncture between the Danish public’s abstract knowledge of historic colonialism and the enduring experiences of descendant communities on the islands. As a response to these dissonances this is the first major, collaborative archaeological project between Denmark and St Croix in almost a century. The project approach is based on co-production and knowledge exchange. It will create significant academic outputs and as well aim to inform public memory in both places,” says Laura McAtackney,Associate Professor at Aarhus University and head of the project.

Tourist interpretation of historic towns and plantation landscapes often focus on the intentions of the colonial creators leaving their other uses and meanings within the evolving post-colonial context largely silent. For the inhabitants of the island - many of whom are direct descendants of colonial slaves - the continued presence of material remains makes the past inescapable and yet it is an uncanny presence the deserves further exploration. 

A Danish Dimension of Caribbean Colonialism
The project brings together an expansive methodology utilizing archaeological methodologies, archival research, oral histories and community involvement.

“We hope the project will add nuance to our understandings of the experience, legacy and memory of colonialism in the Caribbean, which hitherto has been dominated by studies of the British, French and Dutch colonies. It has great potential to contribute to the internationalisation of Danish research and, in particular, it will add a Danish dimension to pre-existing archaeological knowledge of Caribbean colonialism,” says Laura McAtackney.


The project entitled “Enduring Materialities of Colonialism (EMoC): temporality, spatiality and memory on St Croix, USVI” has been awarded DKK 5,757,181 from the Independent Research Fund Denmark (Danmarks Frie Forskningsfond).

St Croix is the largest and most diverse of the islands that made up the former Danish West Indies (now the US Virgin Islands).

Dr Laura McAtackney, Associate Professor
Web: http://pure.au.dk/portal/en/laura.mcatackney@cas.au.dk
Phone: +45 87 16 33 31