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Assistant professor @ University of California, Irvine


Chelsea Schields is Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine. Her research focuses on the histories of sexuality, race, oil, and empire in the Caribbean and modern Europe with a special emphasis on the Netherlands and its former Caribbean colonies. Recent articles on these themes have appeared in Radical History Review, Gender & History, and Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques. Her first book, Offshore Attachments: Oil and Intimacy in the Caribbean (under contract with the University of California Press), traces how the development of a global energy regime transformed Caribbean societies into significant sites in the global supply chain of oil, remaking intimate selves and sensibilities in the process. With Dagmar Herzog, she is co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Sexuality and Colonialism (2021).

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Politics of Sexuality in the Dutch Caribbean


Oil is the Lubricant’: Irreverent Intimacies and Hydrocarbon Economies in the Dutch Caribbean, 1930s- 50s

The Caribbean has played a vital if also understudied role in the ascent of the hydrocarbon age. Located north of Venezuela’s vast oil reserves, the islands of Aruba and Curaçao were the first in the region built to process foreign crude. By the mid- twentieth century, they were the largest plants in the world. If the importance of the Caribbean to the age of oil is oft-neglected, even less is known about the forms of sexual and reproductive labour that supported the ‘boom’ period of the refineries. This paper considers how the entwined regulation of sex and race buttressed a specific petro-capitalist project, with Caribbean women’s reproductive labour – from the provisioning of domestic care to commercial sex – subtending an emerging oil economy in the 1930s-50s. At the same time, this paper considers how actors from the Dutch and wider Caribbean forged irreverent intimacies that contested corporate dictates. Drawing on archival sources from Curaçao, Aruba, the United States, and the Netherlands, this paper explores how intimate practices left uneven imprints on archival records, 57 challenging the portrayal of Caribbean women as passive figures in the age of oil. It follows women from Curaçao, Aruba, Grenada, and the Dominican Republic to the export refining enclaves and traces their negotiation of rules forbidding interracial relationships, procreative sex, and marriage to Dutch colonial subjects. Why do these women and their intimate and kinship practices feature in the archive of oil? And how do their actions help us to rethink the relationship between capitalism, oil, and intimate selfhood in the Dutch Caribbean?

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