Dr Eric Williams' book Capitalism and Slavery was a "watershed" moment for Caribbean history writing, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities & Education at the University of the West Indie's St Augustine campus Dr Heather Cateau has said.
Cateau made the statement yesterday during a panel discussion titled "Capitalism and Slavery at 75" held at the Old Fire Station Building for the NGC Bocas Lit Fest.
This year marks 75 years since Capitalism and Slavery was first published.
"When Williams was writing there was no context for our history, there was no voice, and he became that voice and that voice resonated not only in the Caribbean but internationally and we must understand that power, that is an activist," Cateau said.
"And I think sometimes as academics we get caught up in research but Williams will ask you 'what is your research doing, why are you doing it, it is useless decoration if it is bound and put there, how is this connected to your society, how do you use it to make a difference' and ultimately that is what an activist is at its core," she said.
Cateau said Williams was the "ultimate scholar activist".
"It is very interesting that his work is still influencing us today in terms of our role in the Caribbean, in terms of how we write, in terms of the language we use, in terms of our thoughts, so I agree 100 per cent he is perhaps the ultimate scholar activist but most important I think the timing of this work was important," Cateau said.
"It was a watershed when we look at writing before and Caribbean history writing afterwards there is a qualitative difference and I think Williams was pivotal in creating that difference," she said.
Gabrielle Hosein, Head of UWI St Augustine's Institute for Gender and Development Studies, who chaired Friday's panel discussion said Williams was only 33 years old when the book was published.
"The book was published in 1944 when Eric Williams was only 33 years old which is a massive accomplishment for someone to write a book at that age and for us to be thinking of its relevance today," Hosein said.
"And I think that is very exciting for those young people that are in the room who might not realise that they could write a book at so young an age and make such an impact," she said.
Historian and author Selwyn Cudjoe said a book still being relevant 75 years after it was published "is not a pie in the sky".
"What Williams was doing was trying to give voice to the voiceless," Cudjoe said.
Author Caryl Phillips said he first bought Capitalism and Slavery in the Basseterre library in St Kitts in 1984.
"It doesn't seem to me to be an accident I read it the year before I began to write and publish," Phillips said.
Phillips' first book The Final Passage was published in 1985.
"So much of the work done by my contemporaries, Caribbean writers, British writers, writers in the larger colonial world has been done standing on the shoulders of historians," Phillips said.
"We've relied so much on historians to do primary research and this book seems to me to be a foundation stone upon which we've all stood," he said.
Phillips said Williams wrote Capitalism and Slavery in Britain during World War II while sitting at the Rhodes House Library in Oxford.
"He was undoubtedly the only black face there," Phillips said.
"The genesis of this book came from isolation, loneliness and sheer determination. I think it is a huge understatement to say he was an activist, he was more than an activist he was a visionary. He had nerve and vision," he said.