Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Of Uncertain Rank: The West India Regiments in British Imperial Culture

25 May 2023, 5:00 pm–6:30 pm

Uncertain Rank event

The UCL Centre for the Study of Legacies of British Slavery is delighted to announce the details of the second instalment in its Speaker Series honouring one of UCL History’s most distinguished graduates, the Guyanese historian Elsa V. Goveia.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to

All | UCL staff | UCL students






Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slavery


Lecture Theatre 115
1-19 Torrington Place

Our special guest speaker is David Lambert, Professor of Caribbean History at the University of Warwick, Associate Editor of Slavery & Abolition journal, and co-editor of Empire and Mobility in the Long Nineteenth Century (Manchester University Press, 2020). 

For over a century, the West India Regiments were an anomalous presence in the British Army: raised in the late eighteenth-century Caribbean in an act of military desperation, their rank-and-file were overwhelmingly men of African descent, initially enslaved. As such, the regiments held a unique and uncertain place both in the British Army and the wider British Empire for over a century, until their final disbandment in 1927. This lecture will show that the image of the West India Regiments mattered. Their military spectacle shaped public perceptions in the Caribbean societies in which they were raised, and impacted on how they were deployed there and in Africa. By examining the visual and textual representation of these Black soldiers, the lecture examines a complex and hitherto little explored figure that sat at the intersection of discourses about racial difference, slavery and freedom, savagery and civilisation, and heroism and military service during the ‘long’ nineteenth century.

Elsa V. Goveia (1925-1980) read History (Honours) at UCL from 1945-1948. She was one of the first West Indian students to have studied in the department. While a student at UCL she won the prestigious Pollard Prize for English History in 1947. She completed her PhD from University of London in 1952 and became a distinguished historian and teacher of British slavery. For three decades she taught History at the University of the West Indies, Mona, in Jamaica, where she was responsible for a pioneering course on Caribbean History. Among her publications are A Study of the Historiography of the British West Indies and Slave Society of the British Leeward Islands at the End of the Eighteenth Century. This speaker series in Goveia's alma mater department honours her foundational work in the study of Atlantic slavery.

Learn more about Elsa Goveia's career, including her time in London, in this YouTube video made by the History Department at the University of the West Indies, Mona.

This lecture is free and open to all; reserve a ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/598493920427