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A Postcolonial Dilemma Tale from the Harbour of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands

  • Nathalia Brichet


The port of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas has long been a vibrant centre for ship trafficking in the Caribbean, as it was during Danish colonial rule starting in 1672. In 1917, Denmark officially sold and left what became the US Virgin Islands. Not everybody left, though. The Danish-owned West Indian Company, which owned the majority of the St. Thomas port and its attendant facilities, stayed until 1993. At that point the harbour was sold to the Virgin Islanders, who for some time had complained about the fact that a Danish company still profited from the islands. The harbour of Charlotte Amalie, which is my central analytical unit here, thus provides a lens through which to approach Danish colonial imprints.

The harbour is and has been characterised by activities of a temporary and opportunistic kind: industries blossom, people and crops from far away get uprooted and replanted in the Caribbean, businesses provide work for locals, goods are shipped out to be consumed in other places. The transitory nature of projects designed by people elsewhere, I argue, is part of what colonialism is. As I will show, the traces of such projects appear not only as particular ecologies but also as dilemmas to be grappled with long after the foreign decision-makers have left. My approach to colonial legacies on the Virgin Islands, then, mobilises the shifting flows of people, commodities, and interests shipped in and out of Charlotte Amalie to leave behind altered landscapes that are continuously debated.


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Nathalia Brichet holds a PhD in anthropology from the University of Copenhagen. Brichet is a postdoc working with industrial and colonial legacies, landscape histories, and environmental concerns in former Danish colonies (Ghana, US Virgin Islands, and Greenland). As a part of her fieldwork, Brichet has designed and managed several collecting projects and curated exhibitions together with colleagues in Denmark, England, Ghana, Greenland, and the USA.



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A Postcolonial Dilemma Tale from the Harbour of St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands

  • Nathalia Brichet


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