Box 25

Archival Secrets, Caribbean Workers, and the Panama Canal

By Julie Greene

Box 25

Approx. 192 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 21 halftones, 3 maps

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-7948-8
    Published: January 2025
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7947-1
    Published: January 2025

Paperback Available January 2025, but pre-order your copy today!

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When acclaimed labor historian Julie Greene researched her book The Canal Builders, which went on to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 2009, she explored a cache of first-person essays written in 1963 by the Afro-Caribbean people, mainly Jamaican and Barbadian, who migrated to the Isthmus of Panama to work as diggers, track shifters, or domestic servants in the Canal Zone. Held at the Library of Congress and stored in Box 25 of the Isthmian Historical Society Collection, they constitute the best primary source in existence on Caribbean workers' experiences during the construction project.

Now Greene returns to this fascinating archive, and in this book, shares what it was like to be a migrant laborer on the construction of the Panama Canal. Caribbean workers faced life-threatening illnesses, accidents, racial discrimination, and culture clashes as well as the opportunity to materially improve their lives. Greene offers new details on the strategies of the people who built the canal and examines how colonialism, xenophobia, and racism shaped the process of writing and archiving the testimonies into Box 25.

About the Author

Julie M. Greene is professor of history at the University of Maryland, College Park.
For more information about Julie Greene, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"Engaging, effective, and important . . . an extremely powerful text that reframes key touchpoints in the history of the Panama Canal by centering the perspectives of West Indian workers."—Joan Flores-Villalobos, author of The Silver Women: How Black Women's Labor Made the Panama Canal

"A wonderfully written book about US empire, race, and labor. Greene paints a compelling portrait of the men and women who built the Panama Canal that fully captures their mobility, agency, and lived experiences. Plus, it's an 'archive' book. With a deep dive into Box 25, Greene challenges us to reckon with the power, fragility, and silences of the archives."—Jana Lipman, author of In Camps: Vietnamese Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Repatriates