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Abstract

This dissertation examines dinner parties and other practices of food consumption at the Betty’s Hope plantation in Antigua, to explore the politics of social positioning and distinction on sugar estates of the British Leeward Caribbean during the long nineteenth century (1783-1904), both under slavery and after its abolition. Through the lens of food consumption and host-guest relationships, “A House in Waiting” brings together archaeological and documentary archives to unpack the complex relationships of labor, intimacy and exchange that underpinned the plantation mode of production in the island of Antigua during the colonial period, specifically in the context of absentee ownership, emergent consumerism and Britain’s imperial civilizing discourse. Through the findings of the dissertation, I offer the argument that residents of the Betty’s Hope plantation used the consumption and production of food, particularly through practices of hospitality and strategies of food provisioning, simultaneously to stabilize, negotiate and dispute the contradictions of colonial categories of inequality they experienced as part of plantation life in the Caribbean. I further propose that, over the course of the long nineteenth century, the residents of Betty’s Hope began projecting their anxieties about the shifting relations of social positioning on the plantation, including those unfolding in and around the Betty’s Hope Dwelling House, onto the figure of the absentee owner; a figure they began constructing as a temporally ambiguous poltergeist-like presence through their convivial gatherings, their commercial practices, as well as their transatlantic correspondence. Overall, my work aims to trace how hosts and guests, food producers and food consumers, contributed to shaping the modern Atlantic world through their practices of collaboration and confrontation, further inviting a re-examination of the master-slave relationship in terms of that between hosts and guests. As such, the dissertation works to interpolate the history of the plantation mode of production with that of modern consumerism and social distinction, with the goal of enriching our understanding of the social relationships that made plantation slavery possible, and which continue to haunt institutions of unfreedom in the West Atlantic.

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