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Atlantic History Coffee
by
Michelle Craig McDonald

Introduction

Coffee has been one of the top five most heavily traded commodities worldwide for almost a century, and its production and distribution patterns unite all corners of the world. Early production focused on Ethiopia, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean, but comparative advantage in coffee production shifted to the Atlantic during the 18th and 19th centuries. Much of this early regional significance has been overshadowed by scholars’ focus on another topical commodity, sugar, which has dominated discussions of Caribbean agriculture and, by extension, the region’s contributions to colonial British America and the early Atlantic economy. While undoubtedly central to West Indian development, this focus on sugar masks the historical reality of agricultural diversity, and the related experiences of slave owners, laborers, merchants, and consumers that lasted from the 17th century through today. Coffee, indigo, allspice, and ginger, as well as cotton, tobacco, and a range of woods, traveled as far and wide as sugar, molasses, and rum. But because of their historically subservient position to sugar, these goods have collectively come to be called the “secondary commodities.” Of all of them, coffee offers the best opportunity to move beyond sugar in reexamining Caribbean production and its position in the international Atlantic marketplace of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

General Overviews

The following works explore coffee’s history from its African origins to its move across the Atlantic. Two are late-19th-century histories of coffee, Thurber 1883 and Laërne 1885, which were written when Brazil and Latin America’s coffee economies dominated the world market. Both include comparative analyses of coffee production in different regions around the world, as well as statistics about trade patterns for the late 18th and 19th centuries. Ukers 2007 (originally published in 1922 by the Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company) is an early standard in the field, beautifully illustrated with sketches and paintings taken from earlier 17th- and 18th-century authors. Smith and Topik 2006 and de Graaff 1986 both explore coffee’s economy from a comparative perspective, though with different emphases. De Graaff 1986 work is highly statistical, providing extensive tables on production cycles, distribution patterns, and consumption rates. Smith and Topik 2006 are more interested in tying coffee to ideas about labor conditions, European imperialism, and political economy. This is an important collection of essays on Africa, the Indian Ocean, and Latin America; the one geographic region that could use more emphasis is the Caribbean. Weinberg and Bealer 2001 also follow coffee around the world, though their study ends by the early 20th century, and alternating chapters compare coffee and tea and focus more specifically on ideas about health and medicine. Finally, Pendergrast 2010 offers an accessible overview of coffee’s popularity; a small section considers developments before 1900, but the majority of his work focuses on Latin American coffee cartels and increasing demand in the United States.

  • Smith, William Clarence, and Steven Topik, eds. The Global Coffee Economy in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, 1500–1989. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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    An important and wide-ranging collection of essays that divides the study of coffee into three parts: the origins of its global economy, the impact of production on race and gender, and the role of exports on politics and state formation.

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  • de Graaff, J. The Economics of Coffee. Wageningen, The Netherlands: Pudoc, 1986.

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    Part of a series developed by the Department of Development Economics at the University of Wageningen. The first section focuses on the science of coffee growing and processing, while the second offers a comparative analysis of coffee marketing strategies in eight countries of the Americas, Africa, and Asia. Highly quantitative and focused predominantly on the late 19th and 20th century.

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  • Laërne, C. F. van Delden. Brazil and Java: Report on Coffee-Culture in America, Asia and Africa. London: W. H. Allen and Co., 1885.

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    A report commissioned by royal decree and written by a Dutch emissary from Batavia to evaluate the impact of Brazilian coffee on Dutch East Indian coffee exports. Includes information and statistics about global exports as well as the effect of railroads on production in the late 19th century. Almost 700 pages in length, the full text is available for free on Google Books.com.

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  • Pendergrast, Mark. Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World. 2d ed. New York: Basic Books, 2010.

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    A popular rather than academic history, this book spans coffee’s history from its early African origins and transplantation to European plantations in the East and West Indies, to its rise in Latin America and mass consumption in North American culture. Three-quarters of the volume focuses on the 20th century.

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  • Thurber, Francis B. Coffee from Plantation to Cup. New York: American Grocer Publishing Association, 1883.

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    One of the earliest comprehensive guides to coffee with sections on preparation techniques and cultivation practices—the latter divided by geographic region. Includes tables of trade trends and descriptions of early patents for coffee preparation and serving technology. Available online.

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  • Ukers, William. All About Coffee. 2d ed. Mansfield Center, CT: Martino, 2007.

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    Originally published in 1922, this is the second and standard edition of this definitive work on the history of coffee. Includes overviews of the historical, technical, scientific, commercial, and artistic significance of coffee. A still-unsurpassed work on the subject. Lavishly illustrated, with color plates.

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  • Weinberg, Bennett Alan, and Bonnie K. Bealer. The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug. New York: Routledge, 2001.

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    While not limited to coffee or the Atlantic world (as much page space is devoted to tea and to the Middle East and Asia), this book nonetheless includes chapters on coffee’s early history and social acceptance in early modern Europe, as well as its role in imperial expansion and controversy among medical authorities.

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Journals

No journals are devoted solely to coffee, though questions about its production, distribution, and consumption appear in three important trade publications, all frequently cited by coffee scholars and available in digital form online or for purchase. Café Cacao Thé was published from 1957 to 1994. While most articles are short and tend toward questions of science and technology, it is an especially important resource for non-English scholarship on the coffee industry. Café Cacao Thé is not currently available through any online journal clearinghouse such as JSTOR, Project Muse, Readex, or EBSCO, though a complete set of back issues can be purchased on CD-ROM from Quæ Editions: Des Livres au Cæur des Sciences, a publishing house linking four different research organizations: Cemagref, Cirad, Ifremer, and Inra. Simmon’s Spice Mill appeared under two titles between 1878 and 1920, listed below; some past issues are available online in full text from Google Books.com, and a complete set resides in Baker Library at the Harvard Business School in their trade publications collection. Only one journal below, the Tea and Coffee Trade Journal, published monthly by Lockwood Press, is still in circulation, and monthly editions are available for free from the website included in the listing.

  • Café Cacao Thé.

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    Published by the Institut de Recherches du Café et du Cacao, and then by Cirad, from 1957 to 1994. Includes articles focusing primarily on coffee technology and economic trends. Available for purchase on CD-ROM from Quæ editions online.

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  • Simmon’s Spice Mill: Devoted to the Interests of the Coffee, Tea and Spice Trades.

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    Originally published as Spice Mill from 1878 to 1913, and then Simmon’s Spice Mill: Devoted to the Interests of the Coffee, Tea and Spice Trades from 1913 to through 1920, this journal frequently contains short articles on coffee history, botany, and health, along with occasional compilations of trade statistics.

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  • Tea and Coffee Trade Journal.

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    This monthly magazine was introduced in 1901 by William Harrison Ukers, author of one of the general histories listed above. Since the magazine’s premier issue, the Journal has played an important role in documenting the ever-changing nature of these dynamic, and often controversial, international industries.

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Early Accounts

Wild coffee flourished in Ethiopia’s forests where local tribes gathered and traded it as early as the 15th century. As consumption became associated with the practice of Islam, the trade followed Hajj pilgrims to Mecca and from there to Java, India, Persia, Turkey, Morocco, and western Africa. By the end of the 15th century coffee had arrived in Cairo, used first by religious orders and university students and later by other social classes. Ethiopia remained the sole producer during this early phase. But ports on the Red Sea asserted more control as the 17th century progressed, attracting the attention of first the British Levant Company and then the British and Dutch East India companies. The following sources represent a cross-section of early publications about coffee while the industry was still in its infancy. Dufour 1685 and Chamberlayne 1685 provide some of the earliest descriptions of coffee’s social and cultural significance as well as preparation techniques. Other writers explored coffee’s scientific and medical potential, including Bradley 1721; this publication promotes coffee as a cure for the plague. Douglas 1727 and Moseley 1785 offer botanical analyses of the coffee plant and suggested an even wider range of medical applications. De La Roque 1742 provides an engaging account of early-18th-century European coffee trading in the Middle East, while other authors sought to encourage individual and governmental investment in Caribbean coffee planting, such as Douglas 1727 and Ellis 1774, an island agent for Dominica and army physician for Jamaica, both British colonies, respectively. Laborie 1798 is arguably the most comprehensive planter’s manual for coffee, describing in detail the land, labor, and capital requirements necessary for success. Laborie wrote in English from Jamaica after fleeing Saint-Domingue during the Haitian Revolution, and he deliberately places his analyses in the years just prior to the slave rebellion.

  • Bradley, Richard. The Virtue and Use of Coffee: With Regard to the Plague and Other Infectious Distempers. London: Eman. Matthews, at the Bible in Pater-noster Row, and W. Mears at the Lamb without Temple-bar, 1721.

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    Brief thirty-nine-page pamphlet that suggests coffee might be a viable preventative measure against the plague; part of a larger public debate about the medical effects of coffee. Available through Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO) online by subscription.

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  • Chamberlayne, John. The Manner of Making Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate. London: William Crook at the Green Dragon without Temple Bar near Devereux Court, 1685.

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    One of the first British publications about coffee preparation techniques, based almost entirely on Phillippe Sylvestre Dufour’s French publication listed below. Important, as it included different recipes designed to appeal to different tastes in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

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  • de La Roque, Jean. A Voyage to Arabia Fœlix: Through the Eastern Ocean and the Streights of the Red-Sea, being the first made by the French in the years 1708, 1709 and 1710; also a narrative concerning the tree and fruit of coffee, and an historical treatise of the original progress of coffee, both in Asia and Europe; tr. from the French; to which is added, An account of the captivity of Sir Henry Middleton at Mokha, by the Turks in the year 1612, and his journey from thence to Zenan of Sanaa, the capital of the kingdom of Yaman. London: Printed for James Hodges, 1742.

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    Popular account published originally in French and, in 1732, in English (first advertised in North America in 1742), that followed the path of two French privateers engaged in the early- 18th-century coffee trade. Not only useful for information about coffee exports and consumption practices but also for European depictions of Near Eastern cultures.

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  • Douglas, James. Arbor Yemensis fructum cofè ferens: or, a description and history of the coffee tree. By Dr. James Douglas, Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London: And Fellow of the Royal Society and A Supplement to the Description of the Coffee-Tree Lately Published by Dr. Douglas. London: Thomas Woodward, 1727.

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    A sixty-five-page pamphlet that compiles botanical knowledge about the coffee tree, along with a brief history of the plant’s origins. A fifty-five-page addendum, including more information about coffee trade and consumption in Europe, Africa and Asia, appeared later that same year. Both are available online.

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  • Dufour, Philippe Sylvestre. Traitez Nouveux & Curieux du Café, du The et de Chocolate. Lyons: Chez Jean Girin & B. Riviere, 1685.

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    An enlarged edition of Dufour’s De l’usage du caphe, du the, et du chocolate published in 1671. It is a compilation from various authors, among them A. F. Naironi, Alexandre de Rhodes, and Thomas Gage. In addition to John Chamberlayne’s English translation listed above, also published in 1685, Dufour’s work appeared in Latin in 1699.

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  • Ellis, John. An Historical Account of Coffee. With an engraving, and botanical description of the tree. To which are added sundry papers relative to its culture and use, as an Article of Diet and of Commerce. London: Edward and Charles Dilly, 1774.

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    A seventy-six-page pamphlet of excerpts by different authors compiled by John Ellis, Island Agent for the British colony of Dominica. Includes the French writer Jean de La Roque on his travels through the Middle East, as well as botanical and scientific reports from Jamaica and Dominica. Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO) is available online by subscription.

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  • Laborie, Pierre Joseph. The Coffee Planter of Saint Domingo; with an Appendix, Containing a View of the Constitution, Government, Laws, and State of that Colony, previous to the Year 1789. London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, in the Strand, 1798.

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    One of the most important coffee planter’s manuals of the Atlantic world. Includes detailed descriptions and images of the land cultivation techniques, machinery, building arrangement, and enslaved labor management, as well as detailed charts and tables in the appendices describing Saint-Domingue’s coffee economy just prior to the Haitian Revolution. A full text version is available for free on Google Books.com.

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  • Moseley, Benjamin. Treatise Concerning the Properties and Effects of Coffee. 3d ed. London: John Stockdale, 1785.

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    Moseley, a medical doctor stationed in the British West Indian colony of Jamaica, wrote a series of tracts detailing the medical effects of tropical commodities and diseases. This treatise was republished at least twice more through 1792 and includes an appendix listing the initial subscribers who petitioned for Parliamentary tax relief to encourage coffee production; Moseley wrote similar tracts on sugar and dysentery.

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Atlantic Antecedents

The following sources chronicle coffee’s movement from its origins in Ethiopia, to the Red Sea and Indian Ocean plantations, necessary precursors to European plantation experiments in the Atlantic world. Pascual 1995–1996 and Shaeffer 2001 provide rare scholarship on the very earliest coffee farming and trading in Ethiopia, as well as the factors that contributed to its relocation to Yemen. Brouwer 2006 addresses the next phase of coffee production, though he suggests that the port city of Mukhā might not have been as important as previously suggested; it was not that coffee trading was less important but that it was diffuse throughout the region. Wanquet 1989 explores the first coffee plantation experiments in the French East Indian colony of Bourbon, while Tuchscherer 2001 follows the expansion of coffee production through Dutch and French Indian Ocean imperialism during the rest of the 18th century.

  • Brouwer, C. G. Al-Mukhā: The Transoceanic Trade of a Yemeni Staple Town as Mapped by Merchants of the VOC, 1614–1640: Coffee, Spices & Textiles. Amsterdam: D’Fluyte Rarob, 2006.

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    The second book in Brouwer’s series on the port city of Mukhā. The first focused on the history of the city and its shipping routes, while this volume explores its three principal commodities, including coffee. Despite the city’s overt affiliation of coffee (“mocha” is a derivation of “Mukhā”), Brouwer notes that coffee was not its only or even principal export and that other cities, such as Jedda, had just as large a trade.

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  • Pascual, J. P. “Café et Cafés a Damas: Contribution a la Chrologie de leu Diffusion au XVIe Siécle.” Berytus 42 (1995–1996): 151–156.

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    Charts the rising popularity of coffee and coffeehouses in the Middle East during the 16th century, when coffee shifted from an exclusively Ethiopian export to the Red Sea region, increasing both the scale of production and the base of consumption, and different social and economic classes adopted the habit.

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  • Shaeffer, C. “Coffee Unobserved: Consumption and Commoditization in Ethiopia before the Eighteenth Century.” In Le commerce du café avant l’ère des plantations coloniales: Espaces, réseaux, sociétés (XVe–XIXe siècle). Edited by Michel Tuchscherer. Cahier des annals islamologiques 20. Cairo, Egypt: Insitut Français D’Archáeologie Orientale. 2001.

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    One of the few articles on coffee’s origins in Ethiopia, especially west of the Great Rift Valley where it was locally gathered and traded as early as the 15th century. It also traces the impact of early European trade networks and competition from Red Sea producers on early African production.

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  • Tuchscherer, Michel, ed. Le commerce du café avant l’ère des plantations coloniales: Espaces, réseaux, sociétés (XVe–XIXe siècle). Cahier des annals islamologiques 20. Cairo, Egypt: Insitut Français D’Archáeologie Orientale. 2001.

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    An important collection of essays, some written in English and others in French, that explore coffee’s early history in Southwest Asia, the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean prior to the mid-18th century and French and Dutch plantation production. The last section of the book explores how coffee spread internationally.

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  • Wanquet, Claude. “Le café á La Réunion, une civilization disparue.” In Fragments pour une histoire des économies et sociétiés de plantation a la Réunion. Edited by Claude Wanquet, 55–73. Saint-Denis: Université de la Réunion, 1989.

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    Explores early French colonial coffee experiments in the East Indian Ocean island of Bourbon (renamed Réunion after 1793), a small island off the African coast near Madagascar, and one of the first places where coffee was cultivated by African chattel slavery.

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Caribbean

Coffee first came to the Caribbean in 1720 but planters, enslaved laborers, and cultivation techniques rapidly crossed imperial boundaries. In addition to Surinam, the Dutch grew coffee in Berbice and Demerara, and from French Martinique it spread to Saint-Domingue, Saint Vincent, Grenada, and Dominica. The British first planted coffee in Jamaica and Montserrat in 1728, the Spanish were planting in Puerto Rico and Cuba by 1748, and the Portuguese, most spectacularly of all, were growing coffee in Brazil by 1732. In less than forty years the crop was transformed from an Eastern import to a global commodity cultivated by all major European colonial powers. The leader of the West Indian coffee industry was undoubtedly the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Between 1765 and 1789, the number of coffee plantations in Saint-Domingue almost trebled, and one contemporary account on the eve of the Haitian Revolution estimated more than one third of the colony’s 8,000 plantations grew coffee. Trouillot 1982 provides a concise chronology for the spread of coffee through the West Indies. Other authors focus on coffee’s impact for specific regions: Smith 1998 and Delle 1998 cover British Jamaica, and Geggus 1993 treats French Saint-Domingue. McDonald 2005 looks at the impact of the American Revolution on Atlantic commercial networks, suggesting that coffee trading became more fluid during periods of political disruption, while Monteith 2000 traces developments after the beginning of slave emancipation in the British West Indies. Haiti’s independence and Britain’s emancipation opened up new opportunities for coffee planting in the Caribbean, gaps filled by Puerto Rico and Cuba in the 1830s, as noted by Bergad 1983, Guillermo 1999, and Singleton 2001.

  • Bergad, Laird W. Coffee and the Growth of Agrarian Capitalism in Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.

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    A study of Puerto Rico in 1830s and 1840s when immigrant merchants, largely Mallorcan with ties to Spanish commercial houses, sought to capitalize on opportunities in the global coffee market. Bergard argues that coffee’s expansion reduced Puerto Rican peasant workers’ access to land and created systems of coerced wage labor.

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  • Delle, James. An Archeology of Social Space: Analyzing Coffee Plantations in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains. New York: Plenum Press, 1998.

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    Examines the spatial design and use of three coffee plantations in the Yallahs drainage region of eastern Jamaica to suggest how the nature of a particular commodity and its attendant dependence on slavery influenced plantation construction.

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  • Geggus, David. “Sugar and Coffee Cultivation in Saint Domingue and the Shaping of the Slave Labor Force.” In Cultivation and Culture: Labor and the Shaping of Slave Life in the Americas. Edited by Ira Berlin and Philip Morgan, 73–98. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993.

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    Compares slave labor patterns on sugar and coffee plantations in the French West Indian colony of Saint-Domingue, the leading global producer of both commodities in the late 18th century. Geggus is especially interested in comparing size, labor specialization, gender balance, family structures, and mortality rates.

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  • Guillermo A. Baralt. Buena Vista: Life and Work on a Puerto Rican Hacienda, 1833, 1904. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999.

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    Pioneering work that traces the history of one plantation, Buena Vista, located in the southern foothills of Puerto Rico, as it shifted from food to corn production and ultimately to coffee. Buena Vista now operates as a living history museum.

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  • McDonald, Michelle. “The Chance of the Moment: Coffee and the New West Indies Commodities Trade.” William and Mary Quarterly 62.3 (July 2005): 441–472.

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    Argues that United States’ investment in Caribbean coffee expanded after independence from the British Empire, particularly as merchants sought new economic and diplomatic relationships with French and Dutch suppliers and Danish free ports.

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  • Monteith, Kathleen. “Emancipation and Labour on Jamaican Coffee Plantations, 1838–1848.” Slavery & Emancipation 21.3 (December 2000): 125–135.

    DOI: 10.1080/01440390008575323Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the impact of slave emancipation in the British Caribbean on coffee production. Monteith notes both the difficulty existing farmers faced in retaining formerly enslaved laborers, as well as the efforts of some former slaves to become coffee farmers, which had lower initial capital investment costs than sugar planting.

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  • Singleton, Theresa A. “Slavery and Spatial Dialectics on Cuban Coffee Plantations.” World Archeology 33.1 (June 2001): 98–114.

    DOI: 10.1080/00438240120047654Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Much like Delle’s study of Jamaica, Singleton suggests that Cuban coffee plantations were designed to maximize planter control over enslaved labor. Slaves, however, negotiated these spaces on their own terms—to the extent that they could—creating a more dialectic pattern of power.

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  • Smith, Simon. “Sugar’s Poor Relation: Coffee Planting in the British West Indies, 1720–1833.” Slavery & Abolition 19.3 (December 1998): 68–89.

    DOI: 10.1080/01440399808575256Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Outlines the development of the British Caribbean coffee industry from early tariff reductions to encourage entrance into the industry to the beginning of gradual emancipation. Despite the title, the article focuses primarily on Jamaica rather than the broader British Caribbean.

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  • Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. “Motion in the System: Coffee, Color, and Slavery in Eighteenth-Century Saint Dominigue.” Review: A Journal of the Fernand Braudel Center 5 (1982): 331–388.

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    Provides a brief history of the arrival and dispersal of coffee throughout the Caribbean. Then focuses on Saint-Domingue and outlines daily and annual work patterns for enslaved laborers. Reprinted as “Coffee Planters and Coffee Slaves: The Impact of a Secondary Crop,” in Ira Berlin and Philip Morgan (eds.), Cultivation and Culture: Labor and the Shaping of Slave Life in the Americas (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1993), pp. 124–137.

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Brazil

In 1833, the same year slave emancipation began in the British colonies, Parliament tried to lower coffee prices by ending tariff regulations, but by then French and British Caribbean producers had been eclipsed by newer and larger coffee plantations, initially in Spanish Cuba and Puerto Rico as noted above, but ultimately in Brazil, areas that retained both high tariffs and slave labor until almost the end of the 19th century. Coffee, as an export product, was not an inevitable development in Brazil. Some economists estimate that 80 percent of all coffee exported in Brazil’s 322-year-long colonial period shipped between 1810 and independence in 1822, reflecting its minor role in the colonial period. This changed only after Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Portugal in 1808, forcing the prince regent, Dom João VI, to conduct the largest transoceanic migration of an imperial capital in history. In Rio de Janeiro, some newly arrived aristocrats and merchants as well as Caribbean transplants, stripped of their traditional sources of income, turned to tropical agriculture and exported their first cargo of coffee to the United States that same year. The industry grew exponentially in volume between Brazilian independence in 1822 and 1899, but with staggering demographic, environmental, and political consequences. The landmark study, Stein 1985, and more recently Luna and Klein 2003, convincingly demonstrate that this increased coffee planting depended on slavery and resulted in an escalation of Brazil’s slave trade during the 19th century. Holloway 1980 takes up the question of labor after slave emancipation in Brazil in 1888 and traces waves of European migration intended to fill the gap. Sweigert 1987 explores the other side of the equation, arguing that international investment in coffee concentrated capital in the hands of a dwindling pool of foreign nationals, while Martins 1992 and Topik and Samper 2006 quite literally follow the fruits of this labor, tracing coffee commodity chains and their increasingly global reach.

  • Holloway, Thomas. Immigrants on the Land: Coffee and Society in Sao Paulo, 1886–1934. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980.

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    Focuses on the role of European migration after slave emancipation to provide the labor necessary for Brazil’s coffee-industry growth. Of particular importance is the chapter entitled “Immigrants as Landowners,” which charts the number and size of coffee farms owned by first-generation immigrants.

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  • Luna, Francisco Duval, and Herbert Klein. Slavery and the Economy of São Paulo, 1750–1850. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.

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    Provides the first study of São Paulo’s economy and people during the transition from small-scale, 18th-century agriculture to the coffee boom of the 19th century. In particular, the authors argue that slavery was well entrenched prior to the arrival of coffee, an essential precondition to the commodity’s eventual success.

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  • Martins, Marcellino, and E. Johnston, eds. 150 Anos de café. 2d ed. New York: Lis Gráfica e Editora, 1992.

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    Published to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Marcellino Martins & E. Johnston Exporters Ltda. in Brazil. Though a trade rather than academic volume, it provides background information and statistical data about Brazil’s coffee industry in the late 19th and 20th centuries, as well as a statistical appendix with data on global production and consumption rates.

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  • Stein, Stanley J. Vassouras: A Brazilian Coffee County, 1850–1900: The Roles of Planter and Slave in a Plantation Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.

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    Classic social and economic study of the rise and fall of coffee in the Parahyba Valley of south-central Brazil that outlines plantation life from the perspective of freedmen, slave owners, tradesmen, and slaves. Stein demonstrates how abolition, erosion, and bankruptcy transformed the region’s countryside, destroying hillsides and towns and disillusioning planters and poverty-stricken black freedmen.

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  • Sweigert, Joseph. Coffee Factorage and the Emergence of a Brazilian Capital Market, 1850–1888. New York: Garland, 1987.

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    Argues for the centrality of coffee factors, middlemen who operated between coffee farmers and the companies that exported their commodity internationally, in Brazil’s coffee economy. Initially, factors served primarily to facilitate the transshipment of coffee but ultimately became suppliers of goods and financing for planters as well.

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  • Topik, Steven, and Mario Samper. “The Latin American Coffee Commodity Chain: Brazil and Costa Rica.” In From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy, 1500–2000. Edited by Steven Topik, Marlos Marichal,and Zephyr Frank, 118–146. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006.

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    Part of an essay collection that argues in favor of using a commodity chain model linking production developments to changes in distribution and consumption to study commodity history. Doing so recasts Latin American producers as active economic agents rather than passive suppliers.

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Central and South America

By the mid–19th century, coffee plantations in Colombia, Guatemala, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, like those of Brazil before, reached new economies of scale and profitability. Coffee has been a central theme in Central and South American scholarship for the past three decades, as the majority of studies focus on how developments in the industry exacerbated disparities in wealth and political rivalries. Many authors focus on specific regions, such as Cambranes 1985 for Guatemala, Charlip 2003 for Nicaragua, and Yarrington 1997 for Venezuela. Others have opted for a comparative approach. Williams 1994 and Paige 1997 both focus on coffee and politics: the former suggests that modern governmental structures were formed by the profound effect this one commodity had on local economies and structures of power, and the latter compares the role of coffee planters in 20th-century revolutionary movements in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Roseberry, et al. 1995 also explores the impact of coffee growing but primarily on landholding patterns and labor mobilization. Topik 1998 and Topik 2000 offer the best overviews of the state of the field, providing concise summaries of existing literature and offering suggestions for future research; Topik asks the reader to reconsider the place of Latin America in global history, arguing that the region is often cast as a reactive supplier despite its central role in what became one of the most lucrative commodities of the 20th century.

  • Cambranes, J. C. Coffee and Peasants: The Origins of the Modern Plantation Economy in Guatemala, 1853–1897. Stockholm: Institute of Latin American Studies, 1985.

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    The first in a three-book series on Guatemalan coffee history; this volume looks at how external investment, primarily German, transformed the industry as coffee exports increased five-fold between 1860 and 1899. The key to this success, according to Cambranes, was how finqueros (coffee planters) competed for state-sponsored systems of unfree coffee labor.

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  • Charlip, Julie. Cultivating Coffee: The Farmers of Carazo, Nicaragua, 1880–1930. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003.

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    In contrast to earlier studies of Nicaragua, Charlip suggests that both state policy makers and large planters sought to stabilize rather than undermine small coffee farmers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Credit was readily available to landowners of all size, but almost three quarters of coffee growers lacked access to processing machinery, creating opportunities for exploitation by those who prepared their product for export.

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  • Paige, Jeffrey M. Coffee and Power: Revolution and the Rise of Democracy in Central America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

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    Paige argues that “the coffee elite,” powerful coffee producers who dominated Central America since the 19th century, are key to understanding reactions to revolutionary movements of the 1930s and 1980s. With a strong emphasis on class and economic structures, Paige suggests that coffee helped shaped the emergence of democracy in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala.

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  • Roseberry, W., L. Gudmundson, and M. S. Kutschbach, eds. Coffee, Society and Power in Latin America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

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    A diverse collection of essays by historians, anthropologists, and sociologists that explore coffee production, processing, and marketing, especially between 1830 and 1950. Chapters range from landholding patterns, labor mobilization, class structure, and political ideologies as shaped by Latin American nations’ response to the growing global demand for coffee.

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  • Topik, Steven. “Coffee.” In The Second Conquest of Latin America: Coffee, Henequen, and Oil during the Export Boom, 1850–1930. Edited by Steven Topik and Allen Wells, 37–84. Austin: Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas Press, 1998.

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    Am ambitious chapter with three large goals: to establish the significance of coffee in the global economy; to emphasize regional distinctions in cultivation practices of Latin America; and to detail the impact of coffee on producers, distributors, and consumers to emphasize the importance of this commodity in shaping the both economies and cultural practices worldwide.

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  • Topik, Steven. “Coffee Anyone: Recent Research in Latin American Coffee Societies.” The Historic American Historical Review 80.2 (May 2000): 225–266.

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    A nice overview of the state of the field, as well as suggestions for future direction in coffee research. Topik rightly notes that the majority of scholarship on Latin America focuses on relationships between agriculture, labor, and developing political systems.

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  • Williams, Robert. States and Social Evolution: Coffee and the Rise of National Governments in Central America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

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    Compares the rise of Central America’s coffee industry with the process of nation-building, arguing that the various ways land, labor, and capital were utilized as coffee moved from one region to the next provoked cultural clashes and sometimes violent reactions as it altered landscapes, livelihoods, and even governmental structures.

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  • Yarrington, Doug. A Coffee Frontier: Land, Society and Politics in Duaca, Venezuela, 1830–1936. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.

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    This study follows Duaca peasants’ efforts to cultivate coffee on vacant national and indigenous lands. These efforts created an alternative production model that challenges the traditional notion that plantation economies concentrated agricultural control into the hands of a few large planters.

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Consumption and Coffeehouses

Coffee has benefitted from recent trends in consumer scholarship. While not all sources below focus exclusively on coffee, it is increasingly recognized as a commodity offering the opportunity to not only explore the origins of globalization—as coffee production, distribution, and consumption united Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, and most recently Asia—but also how “exotic” or “tropical” commodities are transformed into mainstream Western social practices. Brown 1995 and Cowan 2005 both outline how and when coffee became popular in early modern Europe, although the latter focuses primarily on England. Ellis 2006 offers an important primary document collection, including excerpts from some of the works that appear in Early Accounts, with accompanying explanatory texts. Smith 1996 takes a slightly different tack, comparing coffee and tea consumption to chart when preference for the former gave way to the latter, while Craig 2004 does the same for coffee consumption in North America. Too often, however, coffee consumption has been confined to Western palettes, and Hattox 1985, Matthee 1996, and Özkoçak 2007 offer important correctives with their studies of coffee’s social and cultural significance in the Near East, and Iran and Turkey more specifically.

  • Brown, Peter B. In Praise of Hot Liquors: The Study of Chocolate, Coffee, and Tea-Drinking, 1600–1850. York, England: York Civic Trust, 1995.

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    Published to accompany an exhibition about chocolate, coffee, and tea consumption held at Fairfax House in York, England, 1 Sept to 20 Nov 1995, it includes well researched essays on consumer behavior with detailed accounts and frequent primary source excerpts from across western Europe. Particularly strong on Britain and France and beautifully illustrated.

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  • Cowan, Brian. The Social Life of Coffee: The Emergence of the British Coffeehouse. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005.

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    Arranged loosely chronologically, the book uses three themes, curiosity, commerce, and civil society, to track Britain’s coffee habits from discovery abroad to widespread absorption into the domestic diet. Cowen argues that merchants made coffee available, but it was “a genteel virtuoso” of elite, intellectual men that made the commodity and coffeehouses popular.

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  • Craig, Michelle. “Grounds for Debate?: The Place of the Caribbean Provisions Trade in Philadelphia’s Prerevolutionary Economy.” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 128.2 (April 2004): 149–177.

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    Uses coffee to trace the importance of West Indian commodities to North American trade interests, especially Philadelphia, prior to the American Revolution. Also argues for the increasing politicization of such goods during colonial boycott efforts in the 1760s and 1770s.

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  • Ellis, Markman. Eighteenth-Century Coffee-House Culture. 4 vols. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2006.

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    This four-volume edition reprints a significant number of primary sources that address key questions about the coffeehouse as a social and democratic space, challenging debates about the nature of the public sphere. Different volumes focus on coffee houses as represented in literature, drama, medical, and history writing. While the range of sources is impressive, it focuses exclusively on English institutions.

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  • Hattox, Ralph. Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Beverage in the Medieval Near East. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1985.

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    A social history of coffeehouse culture in the Middle East. Hattox includes chapters on when and how coffee arrived in the region, as well as its medical, religious, and social acceptance. An especially engaging chapter details the emergence of coffeehouses and their role in male sociability.

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  • Matthee, Rudy. “From Coffee to Tea: Shifting Patterns of Consumption in Qajar, Iran.” Journal of World History 7.2 (1996): 199–229.

    DOI: 10.1353/jwh.2005.0041Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Compares coffee and tea consumption as a means of measuring regional and social stratification. Both beverages arrived by 1500, though public consumption was severely repressed during the 17th century. When consumption resumed in the 19th century, coffee remained popular among Southern elites while tea found favor in the North. By the 20th century, however, tea had surpassed coffee as the beverage of choice throughout the nation.

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  • Özkoçak, Selma Akyazici. “Coffeehouses: Rethinking the Public and Private in Early Modern Istanbul.” Journal of Urban History 33 (2007): 965–986.

    DOI: 10.1177/0096144207304018Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the development of coffeehouses as public spaces in early modern Istanbul, placing them within the context of wider developments, such as urbanization, migration, and the rise of public-house culture, deploying Jürgen Habermas’s concept of the “public sphere.”

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  • Smith, Simon. “Accounting for Taste: British Coffee Consumption in Historical Perspective.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History (Autumn 1996): 183–214.

    DOI: 10.2307/205154Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses trade statistics to track England’s early entrance into the Red Sea coffee market and suggests when and why Britain shifted from a coffee-drinking nation to a tea-drinking nation. Includes data on volumes of imports and relative prices but concludes that it was not purely an economic decision; an increasing emphasis on ideas of domesticity cemented the dominant place of tea in British culture by the early 18th century.

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Contemporary Political Economy

Faced with increasing production, stagnant consumption, and declining prices since the mid-20th century, a variety of organizations have explored ways to revitalize the coffee industry, or at least mitigate some of the worst effects of these developments. While somewhat beyond the chronological parameters of the Oxford Bibliography Online for “Atlantic History,” the following sources chronicle what is undoubtedly the most pressing issue in current coffee scholarship: how to balance global coffee profits with the impact on low-income producers and the environment. They offer several suggestions for alternative coffee markets, including free trade, songbird, and non-profit coffee growers’ cooperatives. Like more historically based studies of Central and Latin America, many of these analyses are geographically focused. Bacon and Méndez 2008 and Jaffee 2007, for example, study small-scale coffee farming in Mexico, while Francis and Francis 2006 traces the development of grower cooperatives in Ethiopia. Daviron 2005 and Talbot 2004 take broader perspectives, following the impact of farming collectives, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and trade regulation around the world, especially in the second half of the 20th century.

  • Bacon, Christopher M., and V. Ernesto Méndez, et al., eds. Confronting the Coffee Crisis: Fair Trade, Sustainable Livelihoods, and Ecosystems in Mexico and Central America. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008.

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    A series of interdisciplinary, empirically driven case studies showing how small-scale farmers interact with collaborations with international NGOs and for-profit coffee companies. Additional chapters examine alternative trade practices; certification; and eco-labeling, including organic, shade-grown, and “fair trade” coffees.

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  • Daviron, Bernard. The Coffee Paradox: Global Markets, Commodity Trade and the Elusive Promise of Development. London and New York: Zed, 2005.

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    Explores the economic, political, and moral impact of consumer behavior in the developing world through the “coffee paradox,” the ever-widening disparity of wealth between coffee producers and coffee consumers. While broader than the Atlantic world, it does include some discussion of the Caribbean and, especially, Brazil.

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  • Francis, Mark, and Nick Francis, dir. Black Gold: A Film about Coffee and Trade. San Francisco, CA: California Newsreel, 2006.

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    Award-winning documentary that focuses on coffee growers of the Oromia Regin of southern and western Ethiopia. It follows Tadesse Meskela, the general manager of the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union, as he travels throughout Africa, England, and the United States in an effort to promote Ethiopian coffee by eliminating the numerous middlemen.

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  • Jaffee, Daniel. Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability, and Survival. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007.

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    This study of coffee farmers in Mexico offers the first thorough investigation of the social, economic, and environmental benefits of the fair-trade coffee industry. Based on extensive research in Zapotec indigenous communities in the state of Oaxaca.

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  • Talbot, John. Grounds of Agreement: The Political Economy of the Coffee Commodity Chain. Oxford: Rowan and Littlefield, 2004.

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    Analyzes changes in the structure of the coffee commodity chain since World War II and identifies structural forces limiting the effectiveness and scope of social justice movements on the market such as organic and fair-trade certification programs. Suggests that, historically, international trade regulations (production quotas, in particular) have had a significant and positive impact on the livelihoods of small producers worldwide.

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LAST MODIFIED: 08/26/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199730414-0102

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