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Open Access What Price Sugar? Land, Labor, and Revolution

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What Price Sugar? Land, Labor, and Revolution

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[First paragraph]Sugar, Slavery, and Society: Perspectives on the Caribbean, India, the Mascarenes, and the United States. Bernard Moitt (ed.). Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004. vii + 203 pp. (Cloth US $ 65.00)Tropical Babylons: Sugar and the Making of the Atlantic World, 1450-1680. Stuart B. Schwartz (ed.). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. xiii + 347 pp. (Paper US $ 22.50)These two books illustrate the fascination that sugar, slavery, and the plantation still exercise over the minds of scholars. One of them also reflects an interest in the influence these have had on the modern world. For students of the history of these things the Schwartz collection is in many ways the more useful. It seeks to fill a lacuna left by the concentration of monographs on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, suggesting that we know less about the history of sugar than we thought we did. Perhaps in no other single place is such a range of information on so wide an area presented in such detail for so early a period. Ranging from Iberia to the Caribbean and including consumption as well as production of sugar, with a nod to the slave trade and a very useful note on weights and currencies, this volume is a gold mine of information. It considers (briefly) the theoretical meaning as well as the growing of this important crop, contrasting its production in Iberia with that on the Atlantic islands of Madeira and the Canaries, colonized by Iberian powers, and continuing the contrast with São Tomé, off the coast of Africa, and on to Brazil and the Spanish American empire before ending with the British in Barbados. In the transit, it of necessity considers and complicates the meaning of “sugar revolution” and shows how scholars using that term do not always mean the same thing. John McCusker and Russell Menard, for example, tackling a cornerstone of the traditional interpretation of the development of sugar, argue that there was no “sugar revolution” in Barbados; economic change had already begun before sugar’s advent, though sugar may have accelerated it, and yet sugar production was transformed on the island. They also undercut, without quite denying, the significance of the Dutch role in the process. Schwartz, while questioning, lings to the traditional expression if not the traditional outlook, seeing in Barbados “the beginning of the sugar revolution” (p. 10).

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10.1163/13822373-90002477
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/content/journals/10.1163/13822373-90002477
2008-01-01
2016-12-03

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