Professor Diana Paton (BA, PhD)

William Robertson Professor of History; Head of History Subject Area; Caribbean history


I grew up in and near London and did my first degree at Warwick University, followed by a PhD at Yale University, where I studied with Emilia Viotti da Costa, Gilbert Joseph, and Nancy Cott. After a year as a Junior Research Fellow at The Queen’s College, Oxford, I became lecturer in history at Newcastle University in 2000. I was at Newcastle until 2016, becoming Professor of Caribbean History in 2015.

In 2016 I joined the School of History, Classics and Archaeology at Edinburgh as William Robertson Professor of History.

My research has been funded by the AHRC, the Leverhulme Trust, and the British Academy.

I have supervised PhD projects in Caribbean and Latin American history, Caribbean literature, and British gender history. I welcome applications from potential research students who wish 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.

External appointments

Editorial collective, History Workshop Journal

Useful Links

Freedom to Believe

Caribbean Religious Trials

History Workshop Journal:

History Workshop Online

Responsibilities & affiliations

Edinburgh Centre for Global History

Undergraduate teaching

  • Global Connections

  • Introduction to Historiography

  • Atlantic Slavery

  • Revolution and the End of Slavery in the British and French Atlantic Worlds

Postgraduate teaching

  • Gender in the History of the Americas

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

Areas accepting Research Students in:

Caribbean history; history of Atlantic slavery and emancipation; history of gender in the Atlantic world; gender and global history.

Current PhD students supervised

Past PhD students supervised

Brennan, Harry, PhD, Transatlantic Gendered Identities in the early modern Atlantic, c.1650-1750

Antony Stewart, ‘The Laboratory of Health and Culture: Medicine, Social Science and International Development in Haiti, 1885-1957’. AHRC funded, 2013-2018. Primary supervisor.

Selina Patel, 'Kept Indoors?: Concubines, Power, and Gender in Late Colonial Bahia, Brazil, 1750-1831’. AHRC funded. 2012-2016. Primary supervisor.

Janelle Rodriques, ‘Narrating Obeah in Twentieth Century West Indian Literature’. 2011-2015. Second supervisor.

Helen McKee, ‘Negotiating Freedom in the Circum-Caribbean: The Jamaican Maroons and Creek Nation Compared’. AHRC funded, 2010-2014. Primary supervisor.

Silvia Espelt Bombín, ‘Free African-Americans in Eighteenth-Century Panamá City: Trade, Identity and Social Mobility’. AHRC funded, 2006-2010. Primary supervisor.

Ria Snowdon, ‘Georgian Women in the Business of Print: Gender and the Provincial Press of Northern England’. AHRC funded, 2007-2010. Second supervisor.

Research summary


  • Africa
  • Britain & Ireland
  • Caribbean
  • Latin America
  • North America


  • Comparative & Global History
  • Culture
  • Gender
  • Imperialism
  • Labour
  • Medicine, Science & Technology
  • Migration
  • Religion
  • Society


  • Eighteenth Century
  • Nineteenth Century
  • Twentieth Century & After

I am a historian of the Caribbean in global context. I work mainly on the former British colonies in the Caribbean, particularly Jamaica, but I am interested in the whole of the Greater Caribbean region, and its relationships with other parts of the world. My research has pursued three interwoven strands. The first is the history of punishment, crime, and state formation, which was the concern of my first monograph, No Bond but the Law: Punishment, Race, and Gender in Jamaican State Formation, 1780-1870(Duke University Press, 2004). The second is the history of gender in slave and post-slave societies, the subject of my Gender and Slave Emancipation in the Atlantic World(co-edited with Pamela Scully of Emory University), and a major concern of my current research activity. The third is the regulation and political status of religious cultures of healing and power (the topic of Obeah and Other Powers (co-edited with Maarit Forde of the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine) and my monograph The Cultural Politics of Obeah).

Research projects

Current research interests

My current work relates to the politics of maternity and reproduction in Atlantic Slave Societies and grows out of my 'Mothering Slaves' project with Emily West, Maria Helena Machado, and Camillia Cowling. I am also working on vagrancy and the policing of public space in colonial British Guiana.

Knowledge exchange

Freedom to Believe: A Caribbean Social and Religious History Resource

Teaching Slavery in Scotland:

Affiliated research centres


The Cultural Politics of Obeah: Religion, Colonialism and Modernity in the Caribbean World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Obeah and Other Powers: The Politics of Caribbean Religion and Healing. Edited with Maarit Forde. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012.

Gender and Slave Emancipation in the Atlantic World. Edited with Pamela Scully. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005.

No Bond But the Law: Punishment, Race, and Gender in Jamaican State Formation, 1780-1870. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

A Narrative of Events, since the first of August, 1834, by James Williams, an Apprenticed Labourer in Jamaica. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001


Journal Special Issues

'Mothering Slaves: Motherhood, Childlessness and the Care of Children in Atlantic Slave Societies', ed. with Camillia Cowling, Maria Helena Pereira Toledo Machado and Emily West. Special issue of Slavery & Abolition 38, 2 (2017).

'Mothering Slaves: Motherhood, Childlessness and the Care of Children in Atlantic Slave Societies', ed. with Camillia Cowling, Maria Helena Pereira Toledo Machado and Emily West. Special issue of Women's History Review 27, 6 (2018).

‘Caribbean Religion, Politics, and Models for Cultural Change’, ed. with Maarit Forde. Special section of Wadabagei: A Journal of the Caribbean and its Diaspora, 12, 2 (2009): 3-86.

Remembering Slave Trade Abolitions: Reflections on 2007 in International Perspective’. Special issue of Slavery and Abolition 30, 2 (2009), edited with Jane Webster.

Articles and Book Chapters

‘Interview: Obeah’s Cultural Politics: A Conversation with Diana Paton’. Interview with Kelly Wisecup and Toni Wall Jaudon, Atlantic Studies 12, 2 (2015): 251-257.

 ‘Witchcraft, Poison, Law and Atlantic Slavery’. William and Mary Quarterly 69, 2 (2012): 235-264.

‘The Abolition of Slavery in the Non-Hispanic Caribbean.’ In The Caribbean: A History of the Region and its Peoples, ed. Stephan Palmié and Francisco Scarano (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011).

‘Revisiting No Bond but the Law’, Small Axe 15, 1 (2011): 176-186.

‘Interpreting the Bicentenary in Britain.’ Slavery and Abolition 30, 2 (2009): 277-289.

‘Obeah Acts: Producing and Policing the Boundaries of Religion in the Caribbean.’ Small Axe 28 (2009): 1-18.

‘An ‘Injurious’ Population: West Indian-Australian Transportation and the Politics of Race.’ Cultural and Social History 5, 4 (2008): 449-464.

‘The Afterlives of Three-Fingered Jack’ in Slavery and the Culture of Abolition: Essays Marking the British Abolition Act of 1807, ed. Peter J. Kitson and Brycchan Carey (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell and Brewer, 2007).

‘Enslaved Women and Slavery before and after 1807.’ History in Focus 12 (2007)

‘Gender, Language, Violence, and Slavery: Insult in Jamaica, 1800-1838.’ Gender and History 18, 2 (2006): 246-265.

‘Telling Stories About Slavery.’ (Review essay.) History Workshop Journal 59, (spring 2005): 251-262.

‘Beyond Control and Resistance? Popular and Official Justice in Post-Emancipation Jamaica,’ in Contesting Freedom: Control and Resistance in the Post-Emancipation Caribbean, ed. Gad Heuman and David Trotman (London: Macmillan, 2005).

‘‘From His Own Lips’: The Politics of Authenticity in James Williams’s A Narrative of Events, Since the First of August, 1834,’ in Discourses of Slavery and Abolition: Writing in Britain and Its Colonies, 1660-1838, ed. Brycchan Carey, Sara Salih, and Markman Ellis (London: Palgrave, 2004), pp. 108-122.

‘Teaching ‘the Americas.’’ Co-written with John Beck and Gemma Robinson. Radical History Review 89 (2004): 218-229, special issue, ‘Our Americas: Political and Cultural Imaginings.’

‘The Penalties of Freedom: Punishment and the ‘Rule of Law’ in Post-Emancipation Jamaica’ in Crime and Punishment in Latin America: Law and Society since Late Colonial Times, ed. Ricardo D. Salvatore, Carlos Aguirre and Gilbert Joseph (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), pp. 275-307.

‘The Flight from the Fields Reconsidered: Gender Ideologies and Women’s Labor after Slavery in Jamaica’ in Reclaiming the Political in Latin American History: Essays from the North, ed. Gilbert Joseph. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001), pp. 175-204.

‘Punishment, Crime, and the Bodies of Slaves in Eighteenth-Century Jamaica.’ Journal of Social History, 34, 4 (2001): 923-954.

‘Decency, Dependence, and the Lash: Gender and the British Debate Over Slave Emancipation, 1830-1834’ Slavery and Abolition, 17, 3 (1996): 163-184.