WMU News

New book looks at history of modern-day Guyana

July 29, 2003

KALAMAZOO -- The struggle for equality in a Caribbean state trying to break away from its British colonial roots is the focus of recently published book by Dr. Juanita De Barros, assistant professor of history, at Western Michigan University.

"Order and Place in a Colonial City" chronicles 35 years of tension and hostilities in British Guiana's capital city, Georgetown, from 1889 to 1924. Known today as "Guyana" the country is located on the northeastern coast of South America and sits between Venezuela and Suriname.

Though the book is based on De Barros' doctoral dissertation, her interest in British Guiana comes from hearing her Guyanese-born father tell stories about being a poor boy in Georgetown and the gangs that ran rampant in the city.

"The country's history of resistance has helped contribute to the nationalist identity it has today," De Barros says.

The book focuses on the three race riots during the period, which pitted a collection of groups from the working class-- including Afro-Creole and East Indian peoples--against the white, British ruling class, who represented less than 2% of the country's population.

Along with extensive discussion on the riots, De Barros examines the differing cultural views between the classes, with much attention given to the idea of how public spaces should be used. She argues that the British elite wanted these areas clean and orderly.

"For the British, their vision of the street was based on a worldview of the European elite, one that was tidy, and proper," she says. "The urban poor saw things completely differently. For them, the street was a place to hang out and socialize. The riots in Georgetown illuminated this clash of cultural visions."

De Barros earned her bachelor's degree in history and political science from the University of Toronto in 1985 and both master's and doctoral degrees in history from the University of York in 1988 and 1998, respectively.

"Order and Place in a Colonial City" is published through McGill Queen's University Press and can be ordered through both Amazon and Barnes and Noble on-line retailers for $75.

Media contact: Matt Gerard, 269 387-8400, matthew.gerard@wmich.edu

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