The economic consequences of imperialism in the French and Spanish Caribbean have unwittingly made it the poorest region in the Western Hemisphere. Due to the Caribbean’s relative location to the United States, the flow of people between the French and Spanish Caribbean and United States represents a sizeable population.
The majority of Caribbean immigrants have settled, and continue to settle, in the greater New York-New Jersey and Miami metropolitan areas. Approximately 72% of Caribbean immigrants to the United States come from territories and countries
including Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba (Zong & Batalova, 2016). French and Spanish territories and countries in the Caribbean have complicated and deeply entrenched relationships with the countries that historically, economically, politically, and socioculturally oppressed their inhabitants. These
oppressed people include the islands’ indigenous populations and enslaved peoples of African descent that were brought to the islands as involuntary migrants.
As participants in a globalized economy, it is imperative students in social studies classrooms are provided with opportunities to explore abstract economic concepts associated with imperialism in holistic and concrete ways. Furthermore, these concepts should be explored in a manner that is relevant to students as consumers, and in many cases, reflective of the complex identities of students who are immigrants or children of immigrants from the French and Spanish Caribbean
(Ladson-Billings, 2014). Lastly, in today’s evolving educational climate, students need experience applying 21st Century Skills more than ever before. Therefore, the high school curriculum presented in this article offers an amalgamation of the NCSS
(2013) C3 Framework Inquiry Arc and Framework for 21St Century Learning (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2015) to scaffold students’ knowledge of how historical patterns of economic imperialism have shaped societies in the French and
Spanish Caribbean. Since the nature of education is shifting beneath our feet and becoming more technology-dependent, all aspects of the inquiry based instructional sequence in this article can be accomplished remotely via computer and internet
The National Council for the Social Studies (2013) recognized the symbiotic relationship between social studies education and 21st Century Themes and Skills in its scholarly rationale for the C3 Framework Standards and Inquiry Arc. Overlapping themes and skills among the C3 Framework (NCSS, 2013) and Framework for 21St
Century Learning (2015) include, but are not limited to: civic literacy, global awareness, and economic literacy. Furthermore, many of the “life and career skills listed fall firmly if not exclusively in the social studies: students must be able to work
independently, be self-directed learners, interact effectively with others, and work effectively in diverse teams” (NCSS, 2013, p. 82).
In this sequence, students work interdependently in small groups to conduct inquiry
into imperialism in the French and Spanish Caribbean, to curate internet-based multimedia resources about economics and imperialism, and to construct a multimedia website with images, videos, and articles to respond to compelling and
supporting questions that frame their inquiry. An optional extension activity implores students to investigate the emergence of creole languages as an
economic necessity and product of cultural diffusion in the French and Spanish Caribbean.
An Economic Inquiry Arc
This high school economics curriculum is interdisciplinary in nature and designed to follow the NCSS (2013) C3 Framework Inquiry Arc. Students are likely exposed to content presented in this curriculum in world history, economics, sociology, or anthropology courses. The interdisciplinary nature of this curriculum
strengthens students’ reading, writing, and information and media literacy skills as they consume and evaluate digital resources. In order to frame the direction of this inquiry in a manner that is relevant and intellectually rigorous, students
explore the compelling question (Grant, Swan, & Lee, 2017): What are the consequences of imperialism? Given the present-day economic
situation in the Caribbean, the answer to this compelling question is ambiguous and dependent upon what groups you ask and their status in Caribbean society. For example, more affluent residents of French and Spanish regions of the Caribbean may benefit from the historical legacy of imperialism, while residents who live in poverty may belong to social groups that historically and presently have been exploited through oppressive economic policies. Thus, students need to explore
the history of economic imperialism in the French and Spanish Caribbean in order to understand why people from different social groups in the region might respond differently to the compelling question.
In order to develop a holistic response to the compelling question in this inquiry, and to guide the content focus, students sequentially tackle the following supporting questions:
1. For what economic reasons did France and Spain establish colonies in the Caribbean?
2. How did imperialism impact daily life in the French and Spanish Caribbean?
3. How has the history of imperialism shaped modern economics in the French and Spanish Caribbean?
These questions support the exploration of economic standards in the C3 Framework related to the interdependent nature of the historical and present-day global economy (D2.Eco.14.9-12; D2.Eco15.9-12). Ultimately, students will be able to determine how economic decisions result in policies with a range of costs and benefits for different social groups (D2.Eco.1.6-8.9-12.). While investigating content-driven answers to the compelling and supporting questions, they are required to evaluate digital resources (D3.1.9-12.; D3.2.9-12.) so they can organize reputable evidence to support their findings (D3.3.9-12.; D3.4.9-12.). Lastly, students communicate conclusions from the instructional sequence through a project-based
summative assessment that requires them to construct an informed response to the compelling question with evidence from multiple sources, while also addressing weaknesses in their argument(s) (D4.1.9-12).
21st Century Themes and Skills
The crux of 21st Century learning resides with the notion that there are specific skills students need to master in order to be productive citizens in the world today. In addition to skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and
collaboration, students must also have a sophisticated knowledge of key subject areas and related interdisciplinary themes. The Partnership for
21st Century Learning (2015) acknowledges the importance of the key subjects such as: language arts, world languages, arts, math, economics, science, geography, history, and government and civics.
It is encouraging to note the dominant importance of social studies disciplines in the 21st Century Skills Framework. However, given the importance of global communication and collaboration, social studies students in the United States would benefit from greater exposure to socioeconomic concepts related to world languages. In a social studies context, the dominance of world languages has played a defining, and often oppressive, role in Caribbean imperialism. An exploration of this dynamic will be offered as a socio-linguistic extension for consideration in the
summative assessment in this instructional sequence. After all, the presence of creole languages in the Caribbean is a direct result of the economic necessity to facilitate communication among social groups that spoke different languages during colonization.
21st Century Themes
In order to support students in the development of a sophisticated understanding of
21st Century subject areas, an interdisciplinary approach is warranted. The Partnership for 21st Century Learning (2015) integrated five interdisciplinary themes into their framework. Two interdisciplinary themes in particular are addressed in this inquiry-based curriculum: Global Awareness, and Financial, Economic, Business, and Entrepreneurial Literacy. Within these two themes,
students explore these strands in depth:
Financial, Economic, Business, and Entrepreneurial Literacy
Understanding the role of the economy in society.
Using 21st century skills to understand and address global issues.
Learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts.
Understanding other nations and cultures, including the use of non-English languages (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2015).
As an explicit outcome of this instructional sequence, students develop an awareness of how global economics has impacted the French and Spanish Caribbean. To accomplish this outcome, students consume and evaluate national and international media sources to learn about Caribbean economics and how it influences different social groups and communities. Finally, an understanding of imperialism from multiple perspectives allows students to recognize how economic policies have shaped the socio-cultural and linguistic landscape in the French and Spanish
Imperialism in the French Caribbean
During the 17th and 18th centuries, France established an economic system of plantation agriculture in the Caribbean colonies of Saint Domingue, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. Plantations focused solely on single-crop production of luxury crops such as sugar cane and coffee. These crops were almost exclusively exported to French markets due to the French exclusif mercantile policy that strictly limited trade between plantations and merchants in major port cities in France (Horan, 2010). Shortly after the arrival of Europeans and enslaved Africans, the
biodiversity of flora and fauna were depleted to the extent that it was necessary to import foods to sustain the transplanted population. Thus, throughout the history of plantation agriculture and enslavement in the French Caribbean, malnutrition
and starvation were rampant among the enslaved population. Starvation occurred, in part, because greedy plantation owners chose to enhance their wealth rather than buy adequate amounts of food for the enslaved labor force (Horan, 2010).
The Code Noir of 1685 (See Appendix A) governed the treatment of enslaved people in the French Caribbean. The Code Noir provided a legal framework to regulate the life, death, sale, religious practices, and care of enslaved people. For example,
enslaved people were required to be baptized as Catholics and were prohibited from working on Sundays and Catholic holidays. Enslaved people were also prohibited from owning legal property and had no legal rights. However, plantation owners
were required to cloth and care for enslaved people when they were ill. The Code Noir also governed marriages, burials, punishments, and delineated circumstances when enslaved people could gain their freedom (Buchanan, 2011). As a legal
document that regulated the life of enslaved people and free people of color in the French Caribbean, the Code Noir provides an understanding of the laws that regulated the daily lives of people who worked, lived, and were oppressed as a direct result of European economic policies.
Imperialism in the Spanish Caribbean
The Spanish infamously began to colonize the Caribbean when Columbus arrived in 1492 in search of gold. From 1492 until the 1550s, the Spanish were the lone European power with a presence in the Caribbean. The Spanish conquest brought the first enslaved Africans and diseases that decimated the indigenous population. Initially, the Spanish established small towns on the Caribbean islands of Cuba and Hispaniola. These towns served as launching pads for further exploration into the
Americas. Once the British, Dutch, and French began establishing colonies in the Caribbean, Spain to take notice of the relative importance of the Caribbean for plantation agriculture and the accumulation of wealth (Bassi, 2020). Under their
system of imperialism, the Spanish monarchy regulated all aspects of the plantation economy, including trade, governance, and established laws regulating the lives of people on the islands (Schmieder, 2013).
The daily lives of enslaved people and freed Blacks in the Spanish colonies of Cuba and on the island of Hispaniola were governed by laws, such as the Código Negro Español of 1574. The Spanish laws governing the lives of enslaved and freed Blacks were similar in nature to the Code Noir in French colonies (National Humanities Center, 2006). For example, the Spanish Black Codes and related laws regulated guidelines for punishments, rules for emancipation, standards for food and cloth
allowances, rules for religious education, and civil rights for freed people (Schmieder, 2013). Although comparable to the French Code Noir, laws regulating enslaved people in Spanish colonies often permitted marriages without a master’s
permission and Spanish laws guiding religious practice were laxer and frequently unenforced. Regardless, both French and Spanish colonies were governed by similar systems of economic imperialism and mercantilism that necessitated the brutal enslavement of people of color for the benefit of European coffers. Furthermore, as students conduct inquiry into the legacy of Caribbean imperial, they will be able to see the vestiges of imperialism in the current economic state of modern Caribbean countries and territories.
The Instructional Sequence
In this instructional sequence, students conduct inquiry into the effects of imperialism in the French and Spanish Caribbean. To accomplish this goal, students work in pairs during vocabulary development and strategic reading activities. Then,
pairs of students are combined to form groups of three or four students to conduct research for the creation of a multimedia website with articles, images, and videos they have curated in response to the compelling and supporting questions. All
activities in this instructional sequence can be accomplished remotely via Internet-based means of collaboration including email, Google Documents, and through the use of a free Internet-based platform to create the website for the summative
The following section provides a description of the steps that teachers follow to guide students through this inquiry. In additional to an explanation of the instructional strategies in this sequence, suggestions for resources and ancillary materials are
offered. Many of these resources are located in Appendix A at the end of this article. Teachers are encouraged to modify and adapt these materials to suit their needs and the learning needs of their students.
Throughout the instructional sequence, students continuously deepen their knowledge on imperialism and related economic concepts as applied to Caribbean contexts. In addition to information provided in textbooks, there are
numerous websites students can visit to begin their exploration of the consequences of imperialism in this region. The World Factbook and BBC Country Profiles are perennial favorites for demographic and economic information about countries. BBC also provides relevant news articles for this instructional sequence. However, considering Martinique and Guadeloupe are domestic territories of France,
Caribbean regional news sources provide more tailored and detailed information from within these territories. Plus, regional news from the French and Spanish Caribbean is more likely to be written by people living in these regions. Thus, these outlets provide more representative and accurate perspectives from citizens, as well as economic, social, and historical experts, living within the boundaries of French and Spanish Caribbean countries and territories (see Appendix A). These Internet resources include international and regional resources such as: Caribya!, Caribbean360, CANANEWS, the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC), and Caribbean News Now.
The instructional sequence in this inquiry guides students through three instructional strategies: vocabulary development to build background knowledge, strategic reading to prepare for writing, and a News Writing Workshop (Scholastic, 2020). Throughout the instructional sequence, teachers can conduct informal, formative assessments based on the completion of graphic organizers and writing samples students produce to process content. The multimedia website where
students integrate images, videos, and authentic writing serves as a summative assessment where they communicate the conclusions of their inquiry and take action to inform others about the consequences of imperialism in the French and
This first instructional strategy addresses the supporting question: For what economic reasons did France and Spain establish colonies in the Caribbean? This initial vocabulary development activity can be completed in pairs. To guarantee
students accumulate background knowledge in an intentional, structured way, teachers can provide them with a graphic organizer that scaffolds their knowledge and maintains focus on the topic. The suggested graphic organizer in Appendix B requires students to define and apply essential concepts such as: imperialism, mercantilism, colony, territory, plantation agriculture, enslavement, imports, and
exports. Based off Marzano’s (2009) steps for vocabulary development, students define each of the terms in the graphic organizer, provide an example in the form of a sentence about the French or Spanish Caribbean, and design an image or symbol for the term. Throughout the inquiry, these terms are be reinforced as students discuss and engage in activities that extend their understanding of the terms as they are applied in Spanish and French Caribbean contexts.
While still in pairs, the second instructional strategy requires students to engage in strategic reading to tackle the supporting question: How did imperialism impact daily life in the French and Spanish Caribbean? Whereas the first instructional
strategy focused on vocabulary development to examine the economic rationale and nature of imperialism in the French and Spanish Caribbean, this strategic reading strategy requires students to access and use primary and secondary sources to
explore daily life in this region from the perspectives of enslaved people, people of mixedracial heritage, and plantation-owning families. All resources in Appendix A are appropriate for this strategy although some are provided specifically for this activity. For example, New York University Libraries (2020) has a Caribbean Studies Primary Source website that provides several publicly available leads to many French and Spanish Caribbean archives and databases appropriate for students to conduct their research. Additionally, the Code Noir of 1685 and Spanish Black Code of 1574 are listed as important primary sources for students to familiarize themselves with to understand the legal status of enslaved people and freed people of color in the French and Spanish Caribbean. Although some of these resources are in French or Spanish, students can translate many of the databases using a web browser and museum websites frequently provide English language translations. Alternatively, students who speak French and/or Spanish, or students who are learning to speak these languages, should be encouraged to apply their 21st Century multilingual assets to conduct research.
As students gather information in their quest to determine how imperialism impacted daily life in the French and Spanish Caribbean, they can record their notes in the perspective-taking graphic organizer in Appendix C. Students need to explore
the daily lives of people living in the French and Spanish Caribbean from three perspectives: enslaved people, freed people of color, and plantation owners. In the graphic organizer, they record a minimum of three pieces of information
about daily life for each of these social groups. Students also record information they discover about the role each group fulfilled in the Caribbean economy. After debriefing this activity, pairs of students can be combined into groups of three or
four students to equitably distribute required tasks as they brainstorm, design, and create the content for the summative assessment.
In groups of three or four, students create a multimedia website in response to the compelling question: What are the consequences of imperialism? To answer this question, they apply vocabulary from the first instructional strategy with
knowledge they gleaned from the second instructional strategy to research and explain the current state of economic development in a country or territory in the French and Spanish Caribbean. In groups, students select the country or territory they want to focus on for this project: Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic, or Cuba. Once they have decided on a country or territory, students assign group members the following roles. If there are four group members, two group
members will be assigned the role of curator:
Webmaster – Assists with brainstorming the website, including layout, website name, and tagline. Contributes an opinion-style article and corresponding image or video in response to the third supporting question. Works with the curator(s) to write the editorial-style article that responds to the compelling question. Proofreads and provides feedback for all articles before they are posted on the website.
Curator (2) – Assists with brainstorming for the website, including layout, website name, and tagline. Contributes an opinion-style article and corresponding image or video in response to the third supporting question. Works with the webmaster to write the editorial-style article that responds to the compelling question. Proofreads and provides feedback for all articles before they are posted on the website.
Multimedia Director – Assists with brainstorming the website, including layout,
website name, and tagline. Contributes an opinion-style article and corresponding image or video in response to the third supporting question. Selects a political cartoon in response to the compelling question. Proof-reads and provides feedback for all articles before they are posted on the website. Posts content to the website in the agreed-upon layout by all group members.
In order to ensure the project is completed interdependently, the roles described above were designed so all group members are responsible for an equitable amount of writing, editing, and selection of visual content. Once it is completed, the website will contain the following elements:
1. A catchy name for the website.
2. A tagline for the website that reflects the compelling question.
3. A reflective, editorial-style article in response to the compelling question.
4. A political cartoon that is related to imperialism in the French or Spanish Caribbean.
5. Three short opinion-piece style articles in response to the supporting questions.
6. Three corresponding images or links to videos for each of the opinion piece articles. These images or videos may include charts, graphic, or maps.
7. An optional extension article that discusses creole cultures and languages in the French or Spanish Caribbean.
News Writing Workshop
To begin the process of creating their multimedia website, students can record their
assigned roles and brainstorm their ideas using the handout provided in Appendix D. Once students have completed Appendix D and received feedback on their plans from the teacher, they can begin researching and writing their articles. Each student
is responsible for writing one opinion-style article in response to the supporting question: How has the history of imperialism shaped modern economics in
the French and Spanish Caribbean? The teacher should reinforce the importance of researching this question from multiple vantage points in order to support perspective-taking and to ensure the articles are not redundant. This point is reinforced in Appendix D where students must explain how the articles will be written from different perspectives. There are several exemplary resources to
guide students through the process of creating news articles. Scholastic (2020) has a News Writing With Scholastic Editors website to guide teachers and students through this process. The ReadWriteThink (2020) website has graphic organizers for creating
articles for classroom newspapers and reporting tips for writers. Links to these websites are provided in Appendix A
Once students have written, proof-read, and edited their peers’ articles, they can begin to collaborate on the editorial-style article and related political cartoon in response to the compelling question: What are the consequences of
imperialism? For this last element, the multimedia director is responsible for working in tandem with the curator(s) and webmaster to write an editorial style response to the compelling question and select a corresponding political cartoon. The editorial and political cartoon can focus on imperialism in the Caribbean in general or in the country or territory they selected as a focus for their website.
Extension: The Emergence of Creole Languages as an Economic Necessity
For purposes of differentiation, or to enrich this activity, students may be assigned to create additional sections for their website. One option would require students to create an article and image on the birth of new languages in the Caribbean through the process of creolization. Creolization is a term used to explain how syncretic
languages, religions, and cultures emerge through necessary contact between groups of people who speak different languages (Baron & Cara, 2011). For this article, students would investigate the phenomenon of creolization and how new Caribbean languages emerged as a result of cultural and economic exchanges that necessitated communication between social groups who spoke different languages. Other related topics for extension articles might include the emergence of new forms of music, dance, religion, and cuisines as a result of cultural diffusion in the Caribbean.
Once the webmaster, curator(s), and multimedia director have written, edited, and
polished their articles and curated their multimedia content, they are ready to post their content to a website. There are many freely available websites for posting student-created websites; a top choice for many educators and students is the internet-based platform at www.wix.com (Colorlib, 2020). In this final stage, students widely disseminate the fruits of their economic inquiry in a creative, website format to communicate conclusion and take informed action (NCSS, 2013). As a result of this
inquiry and its summative project, students will have acquired a wealth of content knowledge to help them understand the legacy and present-day economic situation in the French and Spanish Caribbean. Along the way, students applied numerous 21st Century Skills to understand and address economic issues, while at the same time worked collaboratively to learn from individuals who represent divergent perspectives in regional economics (Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2015).
Baron, R. A. & Cara, A. C. (2011). Creolization as cultural creativity. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
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Geggus, D.P. (1993). Sugar and coffee cultivation in Saint Domingue and the shaping of the slave labor force. In I. Berlin & P. D. Morgan (Eds.), Cultivation and culture: Labor and the shaping of slave life in the Americas (pp. 80-83). Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.
Grant, S.G., Swan, K., Lee, J. (2017). Questions that compel and support. Social Education 81(4), pp. 200–203.
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Resources for Teachers and Students
BBC News (n.d.) Latin American and the Caribbean. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world/latin_america
CANANEWS. (n.d.). CANANEWSOnline. Retrieved from http://cananewsonline.com/main/
Caribbean360. (n.d.) Caribbean 360 News. Retrieved from http://www.caribbean360.com/
News Now. (n.d.). Caribbean. Retrieved from
Caribya!. (2020). History of the Caribbean.
Retrieved from http://caribya.com/caribbean/history/
Central Intelligence Agency. (n.d.). The world factbook. Retrieved from
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Crowell, M. (2018). The island where France’s colonial legacy lives on. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/04/france-macron-guadeloupe-slaverycolonialism/557996/
Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC). (n.d.). The Caribbean digital newspaper collection. Retrieved from https://dloc.com/cndl
France 24. (n.d.). Guadeloupe. Retrieved from https://www.france24.com/en/tag/guadeloupe/
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The John Carter Brown Library. (n.d.). Remember Haiti. Retrieved from
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ReadWriteThink. (2020). Inverted pyramid format. Retrieved from
ReadWriteThink. (2020). Newspaper story format. Retrieved from
ReadWriteThink. (2020). Reporting tips. Retrieved from http://readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson249/tips.pdf?_ga=2.166823997.2047861228.1588102834-973392334.1585586963
Silva, A.M. (n.d.). Haiti: An Island Luminous (n.d.). Retrieved from http://islandluminous.fiu.edu/indexenglish.html
Spanish Black Code: Regulating enslaved and free Africans in Spanish Cuba, 1574. (2006). National Humanities Center. Retrieved from http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/amerbegin/power/text9/SpanishBlackCode.pdf
Scholastic. (2020). News writing with Scholastic editors. Retrieved from