Caribbeana refers to printed and visual works that focus on the history, culture, and geography of the Caribbean. The term “Caribbean” is thought to derive from the indigenous people of the Antilles region, the Caribs, who were encountered by European explorers during the colonial period.

The Library Company of Philadelphia has a rich collection of Caribbeana due to the Caribbean’s geographical proximity and historical connections to the development of the United States. Covering the 16th century to the early 20th century, this collection encompasses a wide range of topics, including commercial, political, and social matters relevant to the Caribbean and its inhabitants. The collection also offers significant learning opportunities in major fields of research such as Atlantic Studies, American Revolution, Colonialism, Commerce, Diaspora and Migration Studies, Ethnicity and Gender Studies, History of Medicine, and Slavery.

The majority of the Library Company’s Caribbeana can be found online through the Caribbean History and Culture collection on Readex, which was created in 2012 during a partnership with Readex to digitize over 12,000 items in the Library Company’s African Americana Collection. Among these materials, the curators identified at least 1,200 books, pamphlets, almanacs, broadsides, and ephemera pertaining to the Caribbean, forming a comparative subset that explores Black life and print culture in the Americas. The Caribbeana collection is fully cataloged, text-searchable, and downloadable through Readex, which can be accessed free of charge in the first floor reading room. While these digitized collections accurately reflect the Library Company’s actual holdings, the original items can still be viewed in the reading rooms.

It’s worth noting that Readex does not encompass the entire breadth of Caribbeana available at the Library Company. Although the collection is the largest and most significant of its kind, it does not currently have a dedicated curator, and the process of identifying all Caribbeana within the Library Company’s printed and visual materials is ongoing. For more information and tips on how to search for Caribbeana, please ask a librarian and see the Caribbeana tag on our Online Resources page.

The materials in this collection focus on the commercial, political, and social matters of islands of the Caribbean Sea, commonly referred to as the West Indies, as well as the nearby islands and coastal areas of the Western Atlantic, such as Florida, Mexico, and Brazil. Additionally, due to the nature of the Atlantic slave trade, some works also cover Africa, particularly the West African regions that played a critical role in the transportation of enslaved people to the New World. These works were primarily published in England, France, Spain, the Netherlands, and the United States, with additional representation of publications from the Caribbean and other European countries. While most of the collection is in English, it also includes approximately 250 works in French, as well as a small number in other languages of the colonial powers that controlled parts of the Caribbean.

The Library Company of Philadelphia has witnessed a renewed interest in the connection between the Delaware Valley region and the colonization of the Caribbean, which has led to a burgeoning collection of reference materials and scholarly works on the subject. This growing interest in Caribbean history and culture is reflected in the Library Company’s programs, exhibitions, and fellowship opportunities.

A. Wynn Eakins, Reading Room Assistant

May 2023

  • Library Company of Philadelphia. Afro-Americana 1553-1906: A Catalog of the Holdings of the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. (New Castle, 2008).
  • Library Company of Philadelphia. An African American Miscellany: Selections from a Quarter Century of Collecting, 1970-1995. (1996).
  • Pactor, Howard S. Colonial British Caribbean newspapers: a bibliography and directory. (New York, 1990).
  • Dunkelman, Arthur. The Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress: a catalog of the gift of the Jay I. Kislak Foundation to the Library of Congress. (Washington DC, 2007).
  • Ragatz, Lowell J. A guide for the study of British Caribbean history, 1763-1834: including the abolition and emancipation movements. (New York, 1970).
  • Núñez, Benjamín. Dictionary of Afro-Latin American civilization. (Westport, 1980).

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