In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cuba

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks and Surveys
  • Journals
  • Bibliographies
  • Document Collections

Atlantic History Cuba
Elena A. Schneider
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0181


Cuba’s past has taken place at the crossroads of Atlantic history. The largest Caribbean island—located at the crux of crucial shipping lanes and trade networks and neighbored by British, French, and later US and Haitian territories—Cuba has been profoundly shaped by both imperial rivalry and the interaction of European, Amerindian, and African societies and cultures on its shores. The site of a landing by Columbus in October of 1492, the island saw violence and disease unleashed on its indigenous Taíno population. Bartolomé de Las Casas took part in Cuba’s wars of “pacification,” an experience reflected in his Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (see Las Casas 1992, cited under Contemporary Accounts: Colonial Period to 1820). The island served as a launching pad for the conquest campaigns in Mexico and as a crucial meeting site for the treasure galleons bringing gold and silver from Mexico and Peru back to Spain. For that reason, in the 16th and 17th centuries, French and Dutch corsairs menaced the island, although the British were the principal threat during the 18th century, when they invaded and occupied both Guantánamo Bay and Havana. Throughout that period, settlements of Europeans and Africans, both free and enslaved, helped to construct a society based on logging, cattle ranching, shipbuilding, sugar, and tobacco, as well as a vibrant service economy in the island’s capital of Havana, moved there from Santiago de Cuba in 1592. In the 1790s, almost a century later than its neighbor Jamaica, the island experienced a dramatic boom in sugar production, bolstered by the disruptions of the Haitian revolution and the arrival of exiles from St. Domingue. Fiscal policies that favored Cuba’s sugar elite, the precarious racial hierarchies of plantation society, and a strong Spanish military presence made Cuba generally a bastion of loyalty during the Spanish–American independence wars, despite the Aponte slave rebellion of 1812 and the conspiracy of La Escalera in 1843–1844. Throughout the 19th century, the island drifted more into a US economic orbit, periodically shadowed by talk of annexation. 1868 marked the beginning of a thirty-year revolutionary process, a struggle against both Spanish colonialism and ultimately slavery that reached an ambiguous culmination in the US invasion and occupation of 1898. Given this long and complicated history, this bibliography ranges from the 15th to the 20th centuries, though its coverage is by necessity not comprehensive, given the tremendous volume of scholarly production for the 19th and early 20th centuries. That said, this bibliography aspires, nonetheless, to provide a helpful introduction to the literature on this island, colony, and nation in Atlantic history.

General Overviews

The overviews included here fall into two main categories: more recent thematic syntheses and classic, comprehensive accounts. All in this section were originally published in Spanish. The most elegantly written meditation on Cuba and the Caribbean’s past is Benítez-Rojo 1996. Funes Monzote 2008 is the first environmental history of Cuba, while Naranjo Orovio 2009 provides a broad-ranging overview of the most recent scholarship, with synthetic essays in Spanish by many leading historians of Cuba.

  • Benítez-Rojo, Antonio. The Repeating Island: The Caribbean and the Postmodern Perspective. 2d ed. Translated by James E. Maraniss. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996.

    Eminent Cuban author and literary scholar’s ruminations on the Caribbean, Cuba, the plantation, and chaos and patterns in the region’s history, dedicated to Fernando Ortiz’s Cuban Counterpoint (New York: Knopf, 2013). Introduction and Parts I and II are particularly relevant, as they deal with the Caribbean as a whole, Bartolomé de Las Casas, and Cuban authors Nicolas Guillén and Alejo Carpentier.

  • Funes Monzote, Reinaldo. From Rainforest to Cane Field in Cuba: An Environmental History since 1492. Translated by Alex Martin. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2008.

    The first comprehensive environmental history of Cuba, ranging from 1492 to the 1920s, with an emphasis on the two interrelated processes that have had the most impact on the island’s landscape: deforestation and sugar cultivation.

  • Guerra y Sánchez, Ramiro. Manual de historia de Cuba. 6th ed. Havana: Ciencias Sociales, 1980.

    Reprinted and abridged version of a massive collaborative ten-volume history written in the 1930s. This shorter version runs from European arrival to the start of the Ten Years’ War in 1868.

  • Marrero, Levi. Cuba: Economía y sociedad. 14 vols. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial San Juan, 1972–1992.

    A classic multivolume history of Cuba and a goldmine of archival material. The text incorporates copious extracts of documents from archives in Spain and Cuba. The author donated his extensive archival and manuscript collection to Florida International University.

  • Naranjo Orovio, Consuelo, coord. Historia de Cuba. Colección Antilla. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Ediciones Doce Calles, 2009.

    A six-hundred-page collection of synthetic essays by some of the leading historians of Cuba. The volume is organized thematically up through and including the 1959 Revolution and Raul Castro’s economic reforms.

  • Portell-Vilá, Herminio. Historia de Cuba en sus relaciones con los Estados Unidos y España. 4 vols. Havana, Cuba: Biblioteca de Historia, Filosofia, y Sociologia, 1938–1942.

    Four-volume history of Cuba through the lens of its relations with the (colonial) United States and Spain, beginning its narrative in 1512. Produced during the era of the republic by a Cuban intellectual who moved back and forth to the United States and was a prominent voice of Pan-Americanism.

  • Portuondo del Prado, Fernando. Historia de Cuba. Havana, Cuba: Editorial Nacional de Cuba, 1965.

    A heavily illustrated, encyclopedic survey of the colonial period, covering 1492 to 1898.

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