Eric Williams

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Eric Eustace Williams (25 September 1911 – 29 March 1981) was the first Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago. He served from 1956 until his death in 1981. He was also a noted Caribbean historian.


Early life

Williams' father was a minor civil servant, and his mother was a descendant of the French Creole elite. He was educated at Queen's Royal College in Port of Spain, where he excelled at academics and football. He won an island scholarship in 1932 which allowed him to attend St Catherine's Society, Oxford (which later became St Catherine's College), where he was ranked first in the First Class of Oxford students graduating in History in 1935, while representing the university in soccer. In Inward Hunger, his autobiography, he described his experience of racism in Britain, and the impact on him of his travels in Germany after the Nazi seizure of power.

Scholarly career

Williams went on to advanced research in history at Oxford, completing the D.Phil in 1938 under the supervision of Vincent Harlow. His doctoral thesis, The Economic Aspects of the Abolition of the Slave Trade and West Indian Slavery, was both a direct attack on the idea that moral and humanitarian motives were the key facts in the victory of British abolitionism, and a covert critique of the idea common in the 1930s, emanating in particular from the pen of Oxford Professor Reginald Coupland, that British imperialism was essentially propelled by humanitarian and benevolent impulses. Williams's argument owed much to the influence of C. L. R. James, whose The Black Jacobins, also completed in 1938, also offered an economic and geostrategic explanation for the rise of British abolitionism.

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