Dr Diana Paton
Reader in Caribbean History


I am a historian of the Caribbean, with particular interests in Jamaican history, Caribbean cultural history, comparative histories of slavery and emancipation, and gender history. My most recent book The Cultural Politics of Obeah: Religion, Colonialism and Modernity in the Caribbean World, was published by Cambridge University Press in August 2015.


I did my first degree, in history, at Warwick University. I then went to Yale University to do a PhD, graduating in 2000. My dissertation, 'No Bond but the Law: Punishment and Justice in Jamaica's Age of Emancipation' was supervised by Emilia Viotti da Costa, Gilbert Joseph, and Nancy Cott. After a year as a Junior Research Fellow at Queens' College, Oxford, I moved to Newcastle University in 2000.

Roles and Responsibilities

  • Deputy Head of School of History, Classics and Archaeology


I am a member of the editorial collective of History Workshop Journal, of the editorial board of Slavery and Abolition, and an active member of the Society for Caribbean Studies, of which I was chair between 2002 and 2006.

Research Interests

Caribbean history especially Jamaica; history of slavery and emancipation; gender history; comparative history of the Americas, colonial and postcolonial histories.

Current Work

My main current work is on the theme of Maternity and Atlantic Slavery. I am collaborating, with Emily West (Reading), and Maria Helena Machado (Sao Paulo), on an AHRC-funded network, 'Mothering Slaves: Comparative Perspectives on Motherhood, Childlessness, and the Care of Children in Slave Societies of the America', which runs from 2014 to 2016. My particular concern is with the position of childless and bereaved women in the pronatalist slave societies of the late period of slavery.

I also have a longstanding interest in the political and cultural history of obeah, a Caribbean creole spiritual healing practice that has been illegal for most of its history. My monograph, The Cultural Politics of Obeah: Religion, Colonialism and Modernity in the Caribbean World was published by Cambridge University Press in 2015. I continue to work on this topic, and am currently researching a biography of an African-born man convicted of obeah in the 1830s in Grenada.  Some of my research on obeah is on my Obeah Histories website.

I maintain my interest in state formation in Jamaican history and Caribbean history more broadly. This developed out of my PhD research, published in revised form as No Bond but the Law, on the development of the prison system in Jamaica during and after the end of slavery. 

Postgraduate Supervision

I welcome applications to work on any area of Caribbean history, and on histories of slavery and emancipation and/or gender history elsewhere in the Americas or the British Empire. I also welcome students interested in interdisciplinary Caribbean Studies.

Current PhD Students

Ayshah Johnston, 'Vagrancy and Poverty in the Anglophone Caribbean, 1834-1900' (AHRC funded through the Collaborative Doctoral Partnership with The National Archives).

Selina Patel, 'The Concubine and the Casa-Grande: Feminized Space and Female Power in the Brazilian Plantation Household, 1750-1822' (AHRC funded)

Janelle Rodriques, 'Strategies for Survival: Representations of Obeah in Anglophone West Indian Literature'

Antony Stewart, 'Tracking Foreign Intervention through Medicine and Social Scienece in Haiti, c. 1900-1950' (AHRC funded) 

Former PhD students

Helen McKee, 'Negotiating Freedom in the Circum-Caribbean: The Jamaican Maroons and Creek Nation Compared' (AHRC funded) 

Silvia Espelt Bombin, 'A free coloured elite? Trade, identity and social mobility in Panama City, 1700-1770' (AHRC funded)

Ria Snowdon, 'Georgian Women in the Business of Print: Gender and the Provincial Press of Northern England' (AHRC funded)

Undergraduate Teaching

I teach on the following modules, although not all of them run every year:

HIS1025: World Empires

HIS1046: History of the Americas

HIS2034: The Rise and Fall of Atlantic Slavery

HIS2039: The Modern Caribbean

HIS3001: The Haitian Revolution (special subject)

HIS3213: Slave Emancipation in the British Empire (special subject)

HIS3010: Writing History

Postgraduate Teaching

HIS8132: Slavery, Race and Freedom

In 2015-16 I will not be teaching but am available to see students by appointment.