Questions for CSA Past Presidents
Responses by Jacqueline Anne Braveboy-Wagner
CSA President 1992-1993
How did you come to specialize in Caribbean Studies?
I obtained an M.S. in International Relations at the Institute of IR, UWI, St. Augustine where I specialized in an area best described as Caribbean conflict and international law. However, in my further studies and work in the United States, I specialized in broader global south international studies, albeit while retaining a sub-specialty in small states, including the Caribbean. At the time, the Cold War was raging, so it was natural that I would be called on by colleagues to work on Caribbean issues, especially because IR as a field was very new to the Caribbean and there was, consequently, a dearth of Caribbean scholarship employing the particular techniques and approaches of IR and foreign policy analysis. And so it was that I ended up writing what has been described as the first comprehensive book on the subject (Caribbean in World Affairs.)
How did your interest in and commitment to Caribbean Studies evolve?
When did you first join CSA and what did it mean to you then?
I cannot recall the exact date I joined but I do know that the first position I held was Newsletter Editor from around 1986 through 1991 when I became VP. By the way, I want to take the opportunity to recognize the late W. Marvin Will who was a dedicated founding member of CSA and its newsletter editor in the days when it was short and pricey to publish. I basically built on his and Alma Young’s work.
What were your goals for CSA the year of your presidency?
Well, first, there was still some resistance to our expansion away from the English-speaking core in those years (despite the fact that we were headquartered in Puerto Rico). I wanted to ensure inclusiveness of all the diverse parts of the Caribbean so I made sure, for example, that newsletter communications were in the three main languages, that the conference presentations not only included French and Spanish presentations but integrated them with the English presenters rather than reserved them for separate panels, and even had my presidential address translated into the three main languages at the luncheon.
Second, at the time there was a pressing need for constitutional reform so we spent the year engaged in an exercise to update the constitution (I believe changes were initially begun under Eddie Greene).
Third, I wanted to do something other to promote us rather than just wait for the single-activity conference in May so we held a min-conference at CUNY in December in cooperation with The Bildner Center of CUNY. As (bad) luck would have it, a nor-easter came along on that very day; still the presenters managed to make it out of DC and Philly and what was missing in audience was made up for by enthusiasm.
Fourth, I wanted to promote greater interaction between CSA and other associations, and we were particularly pleased to become affiliated with the International Studies Association. (This resulted in us participating in various conferences in later years, including one with the Mexicans in Manzanillo; and ISA sent participants to CSA in Panama years later). It si too abd this affiliation was lost.
Overall, I think we became more professionalized and expansive during that period, although perhaps conference attendees might best remember that year as the year we split the conference between urban site (Kingston) and touristic Ocho Rios. We did so to try to resolve the issue of people leaving the conference after a couple of days to go north to the beaches but I would not recommend it as there were tremendous logistical difficulties.
What did you recognize to be the greatest obstacles facing CSA and Caribbean Studies during your presidency?
When I took over, the Ford Foundation, our major benefactor, had already decided that it would cut funding to CSA. I recall well the meetings I and my Executive Committee colleague Monica Gordon had at Ford-New York. We managed to persuade them to continue funding for one more year. I drew up a concise plan of action and I suppose that was persuasive.
Caribbean studies was a bit more vibrant then than today because it was just after the Cold War and there was lingering interest in the region abroad. We were also becoming more integrated within Latin America. I say l this because the CSA was more oriented toward political and policy matters then than it is today when it seems to be more oriented toward the arts and humanities.
What did you consider to be the greatest accomplishment of CSA that year?
Overall, we accomplished the goals set out in “goals” above
Why did you choose the location you did for the CSA annual conference that year?
I had done my undergraduate studies in Jamaica and was quite fond of the country. Not only were we able to tap into the resources of the UWI but we also were able to showcase people such as Reggie Demas, Rex Nettleford, Maya Angelou (who was visiting at the time) and most of all, Michael Manley who graciously agreed to be our guest at the CSA dinner. All this helped promote the organization. Moreover, I knew that Prime Minister Manning of Trinidad and Tobago would be coming to Jamaica at that time, and so he became our keynote speaker.
Where do you hope to see CSA in the next ten years?
It is not a good time for area studies. However, CSA seems to be enduring. I would suggest, however, a return to some of the old ideas we had about CSA becoming both a channel for new academic ideas and a network of influential people available for policy purposes.
What is one of your fondest CSA memories?
Hosting Michael Manley who was a very charming guest has to be ranked up there. However, CSA conferences were always a nice blend of networking, stimulating presentations, and once-a-year fun with colleagues.
What are you doing now in terms of the Caribbean?
Many different consultancies and policy work. I continue to publish on the area. And I am doing outreach to Caribbean colleagues as Chair of the Global South Caucus of the International Studies Association.
Where do see the future of Caribbean Studies?
As I said earlier, as far as my particular field is concerned (political science), the current climate for area studies is not good (except perhaps Middle East studies) and the Caribbean is somewhat forgotten abroad now. However, Caribbean studies will always be a good match for broader disciplinary study.
What would you recommend to a young scholar starting in Caribbean Studies?
Broaden your approach to include comparative areas. We also desperately need new ideas in the Caribbean so perhaps our young
scholars can get the ball a-rolling.