henry c. merritta on settler colonialism in tobago and national identity in latvia


Harry C. Merritta, ‘The colony of the colonized: the Duchy of Courland’s Tobago colony and contemporary Latvian national identity’, Nationalities Papers 38, 4 (2010).


This paper examines the legacy of the Duchy of Courland’s overseas colony of Tobago as it relates to present-day Latvian national identity using the ethno-symbolist approach of Anthony D. Smith and comparative cases. As Latvia is a small nation that has been an independent nation-state for only two short periods, national legitimacy and pride pose particular problems for Latvians. To this end, Latvian historians have worked to reinterpret the Baltic German-dominated Duchy of Courland as a positive period of Latvian national history and have sought to emphasize ethnic Latvian involvement in the Duchy’s colonial endeavors, especially on the island of Tobago. Their efforts have then filtered into the general Latvian consciousness through books, film, plays, and place names. Since Latvia’s independence from the USSR, the former colony of Tobago has gained renewed importance for Latvians who are experiencing a widely perceived notion of postcolonialism. This paper concludes that the appropriated colony of Tobago will continue to rise in importance as a component of Latvian national identity.

Keywords: Latvia; Tobago; Duchy of Courland; historiography; colonialism

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