Northern Centre for the History of Medicine and Medical Humanities

Diana Paton

Reader in Caribbean History
School of History, Classics and Archaeology, Newcastle University




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. I am currently working on a book The Cultural Politics of Obeah, to be published by Cambridge University Press.


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.


I am a member of the editorial collective of History Workshop Journal, 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 research is on the political and cultural history of obeah, a Caribbean creole spiritual healing practice that has been illegal for most of its history. My research examines competing constructions of obeah in law, medical knowledge, colonial discourse, and popular culture, using them as a window onto debates about race and nation in the region. The research has been funded by a British Academy small grant, a Leverhulme Project grant, and an AHRC research fellowship. With the support of the Leverhulme Trust, Maarit Forde and I organized a conference entitled Obeah and Other Powers: Rethinking Caribbean Religion and Healing at Newcastle in 2008. Some of the work presented at that conference was published by Duke University Press in 2012, in a book entitled Obeah and Other Powers: The Politics of Caribbean Religion and Healing. My monograph on obeah will be published by Cambridge University Press. Some of my research on obeah is on my Obeah Histories website.

I also 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

Helen McKee, 'A Comparative Study of the Jamaican Maroons and the Creeks' (AHRC funded)

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'

Former PhD students

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 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

MA History of the Americas



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