OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Carla G. Pestana

Portrait of Carla G. Pestana
Image Credit: Scarlett Freund

A professor of history at UCLA, Carla Pestana holds the Joyce Appleby Endowed Chair of America in the World there; since 2018, she has also served as department chair. She attended graduate school at UCLA, where she studied with Appleby as well as Gary Nash. Prior to joining the faculty at UCLA, Pestana taught at the Ohio State University, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Her research focuses on revolution, religion, and empire in early America and the English Atlantic world, and she frequently returns to the Quakers, the subject of her first publication. Her teaching covers these topics as well as pirates and witches, among other subjects. Her most recent books include Plymouth Plantation in the Atlantic World (2020), The English Conquest of Jamaica: Oliver Cromwell's Bid for Empire (2017), Protestant Empire: Religion and the Making of the British Atlantic World (2009), and The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640–1661 (2004). She has blogged for the Huffington Post.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

In 1655, a massive expeditionary force sent out by Oliver Cromwell to conquer all of the Spanish West Indies seized only the modest prize of the island of Jamaica. Popularly assessed to have been a failure at the time, this conquest nonetheless had, as Pestana demonstrates, major consequences for England, the Atlantic World and particularly for the colonies in North America that would go on to become the United States.
Piracy has been (and remains) a major maritime phenomenon and one that we find perennially interesting. "Why Pirates in the Caribbean?" asks why the Caribbean region boasted conditions particularly conducive to pirates during the early modern era. It explains the rise, nature and decline of piracy in the West Indies.
Commemorative campaigns identified both 2019 and 2020 as foundational moments in the creation of the United States. One emphasizes slavery and racial injustice as present from the first, while the other emphasizes the sacrifice and hard work of the first settlers. These dueling commemorations tell us a great deal about the American past as well as the struggle for its future.
Plymouth Plantation is famous in the United States as a site of beginnings, and its image revolves around vignettes drawn from the first year: signing a document to set up self-government, stepping onto shore, meeting a native man, celebrating a thanksgiving meal. All these images rely on the idea that pious settlers arrived in an isolated location where they endured hardship. How does their undertaking appear different if we acknowledge that they were intensely connected to (as well as quite like) other places in the Atlantic world?