Atlantic History Sugar in the Atlantic World
by
Justin Roberts
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0140

Introduction

Sugar drove the expansion of European empires in the Atlantic world. From its cultivation in the Atlantic Islands in the 15th century to its production in Cuba and Louisiana after British and French emancipation in the 19th century, sugar was always the dominant crop in the Atlantic. Wherever sugar was grown, the crop brought with it the same significant transformations, including a majority population of enslaved peoples of African descent, higher rates of mortality, lower rates of fertility, the concentration of capital on large plantations, and sweeping ecological changes such as the elimination of timber and the erosion of soils. Sugar profits made the circum-Caribbean world, in particular, a site of intense imperial rivalry. The sugar-growing regions of the Americas always imported more African slaves than did any other regions in the Americas. Cultivating sugar was deadly work. The decline of the slave population was the norm in the sugar-producing regions of the Americas. It was also a particularly lucrative crop. Sugar planters were among the wealthiest producers in the New World. The 19th-century abolitions of the slave trade destroyed the sugar industry in the Atlantic world by choking the industry’s labor supply. After abolition, East Indian and Chinese laborers were imported to try to sustain the sugar industry; but without enslaved African labor, it was no longer lucrative enough to compete with beet sugar production. The consumption of sugar expanded rapidly throughout the early modern era. The escalating demand drove the expansion of the sugar-producing regions. The sugar producers of the Caribbean struggled to find sufficient labor in the era of abolition and emancipation and shifted to various forms of coerced labor to continue producing the crop. This involved an ethnic shift as well: African slaves were replaced by Asian indentured laborers. The abolition of slavery and the rise of beet sugar finally halted the expansion of the sugar plantation complex in the Atlantic. This bibliography will address some of the major works on sugar in the Atlantic world. It will examine both the production and consumption of sugar and examine some of the most significant debates in the historiography on sugar slavery. It will contrast and compare sugar production and consumption by the various national and imperial groups, but it will focus largely on Anglo-American sugar production, reflecting a bias in the scholarly literature.

General Overviews

Sugar was the most significant agricultural crop in the Atlantic economy. There have been several commodity studies of sugar. Mintz 1985 is by far the most sophisticated and carefully researched of these, but there are other useful general studies. Abbot 2008 is a good example of a fairly recent publication. Aykroyd 1967 is an older overview from the unique perspective of a scientist. Most of the work on sugar, both general and specialist, has focused on sugar slavery in the British Caribbean. Most generalist works pay particular attention to the brutal conditions of sugar labor. Thus far, production studies have overshadowed consumption studies. Deerr 1949–1950, a two-volume work, exemplifies how thoroughly production can be explored. It is still often cited for its detail. Sugar as a commodity touched many aspects of the Atlantic economy, brought millions of Africans to the Caribbean and to Brazil to cultivate the crop, and created a class of fabulously wealthy merchants and planters and a political interest group with significant power in European government. Eltis 2000 offers an overview of the trajectory of sugar slavery in the New World. There were also cultures of consumption, addressed in Mintz 1985, that grew out of the use of sugar as a food, and the calories consumed from slave-grown sugar imported from the Americas might have enabled workers in industrializing Europe to work longer hours. The sugar boom fueled dietary changes and racialized consumption. Many aspects of both the production and consumption of sugar, particularly outside of the British Atlantic, cry for scholarly attention. Stinchcombe 1995, an overview of the subject, offers a nonspecialist perspective based on a general literature review of many of the debates about sugar slavery. Galloway 1989 and Moore 2000 demonstrate the possibilities for a geographical and environmental perspective on the historical geography of the sugar plantation complex.

  • Abbot, Elizabeth. Sugar: A Bittersweet History. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2008.

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    A vignette-driven popular history. Focuses on sugar production in the Caribbean, the destruction of indigenous people, and the suffering of the Africans who grew the crop.

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    • Aykroyd, W. R. Sweet Malefactor: Sugar, Slavery, and Human Society. London: Heinemann, 1967.

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      An overview of sugar plantations in the Caribbean. Written by a noted nutritionist later in his career. Offers a unique and intelligent perspective on sugar production from someone not trained as a historian.

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      • Deerr, Noël. The History of Sugar. 2 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1949–1950.

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        Dated but still essential work for beginning any study of sugar. Focused on economics and production. Antiquarian in approach. Rich in evidence and detail but not very analytical.

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        • Eltis, David. The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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          A thoroughly researched overview of the rise of slavery in the Americas and the slave trade by one of the preeminent slavery specialists. A chapter on the English Caribbean offers the most accurate overview available of the movement of sugar through the English sugar islands and the reasons for its prominence on certain islands.

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          • Galloway, J. H. The Sugar Cane Industry: An Historical Geography from Its Origins to 1914. Cambridge Studies in Historical Geography 12. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

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            Written by a historical geographer. Based on deep archival research and particularly sensitive to the environmental impact of sugar and the landscape of sugar societies. Traces the movement of sugar throughout the world but focuses on the Caribbean. Written in a direct and lucid style.

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            • Mintz, Sidney. Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History. New York: Penguin, 1985.

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              This book, by one of the leading scholars of sugar production and slavery in the Caribbean, is the most important work for understanding the place of sugar in modern world history. Eloquent and fascinating. Global in its scope, it is divided into separate sections on production and consumption and serves as a stellar example of what can be done with a commodity study.

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              • Moore, Jason W. “Sugar and the Expansion of the Early Modern World-Economy: Commodity Frontiers, Ecological Transformation, and Industrialization.” Review: A Journal of the Fernand Braudel Center 23.3 (2000): 409–433.

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                Explores the ecological destruction that accompanied the expansion of the sugar frontiers in the early modern world. Posits sugar planting as the archetype of early modern capitalism.

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                • Stinchcombe, Arthur L. Sugar Island Slavery in the Age of Enlightenment: The Political Economy of the Caribbean World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

                  DOI: 10.1515/9781400822003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                  An overview by a sociologist and a nonspecialist. Scholarly but draws entirely on secondary literature. Offers little that is new to specialists but summarizes some of the literature well.

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                  Journals

                  There is no single journal that addresses sugar’s role in the Atlantic world. However, there are a few journals that tend to publish important articles relating to the production of the commodity. The New West-Indian Guide, William and Mary Quarterly, and Slavery & Abolition offer some of the best work on the history of sugar in the Atlantic. Economic History Review offers articles that focus more on the economics of production and consumption. The Hispanic American Historical Review offers coverage of sugar slavery in the non-British Atlantic. The Journal of Caribbean History focuses on the region in which most Atlantic sugar was grown. Accordingly, many of its articles address aspects of sugar production and the societies that formed around sugar colonies.

                  Primary Sources

                  The range of primary sources available for the study of sugar is enormous. There is no single online portal on the subject. Early English Books Online and Eighteenth-Century Collections Online are, however, two important online collections of printed material from the early modern era. They are both keyword searchable and should be consulted in the early phases of any project on sugar in the Atlantic. Other essential online sites for the study of sugar slavery include the massive collection of images at The Atlantic Slave-Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record. This is an incredibly useful resource for teaching and researching. The African slave trade to the Americas was largely driven by sugar production. Accordingly, Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database is an important tool for understanding the importation of labor in the sugar colonies. Documenting Louisiana Sugar, 1845–1917 is a fascinating collection of primary sources through which one can trace the impact of emancipation on sugar regions in the Americas. There are several self-contained and published sources for the study of sugar slavery that allow scholars to examine the production of the commodity in detail. Long 2002 is among the most useful, and Thompson 2009, which reproduces a set of 17th-century plantation management instructions, offer a sense of exactly how early plantations operated. Conrad 1997 is a collection of short Brazilian sources translated into English, an invaluable teaching tool.

                  The Origins of the Sugar Complex and the Rise of Sugar in the Americas

                  The vast majority of work on sugar in the Atlantic world explores the production and consumption of the commodity in the 18th- and early-19th-century British Caribbean. The study of the early rise of sugar has been less fully developed. The origins of the sugar plantation complex in the British Caribbean and Brazil and the rise to ascendency of particular colonies has been explored in a few notable studies, particularly Dunn 1972, one of the key texts on the early development of the British Caribbean. Curtin 1998 is the seminal work, a study of the expansion of sugar plantations across the Atlantic. Greenfield 1979 is also useful for exploring the early formation of the sugar plantation system. The collection of essays in Schwartz 2004 will help to spark further research on the early development of sugar in the Atlantic. One of the most significant debates on the origins of the sugar industry in the British West Indies has focused on the transmission of knowledge and capital sufficient to begin the sugar revolution in the region. Scholars debate how significant the Dutch planters and merchants who had occupied northeastern Brazil were in that transmission. Roberts 2016, Menard 2006, and Higman 2000 examine the introduction of sugar into the British Caribbean economy and the logistics of its spread from the eastern to the western Caribbean. The ways in which planters interacted with the Caribbean environment as they developed their agricultural techniques is explored by Ormrod 1979 and Watts 1968. Much work remains to be done on sugar production in the Atlantic islands before the sugar revolution swept through the Americas. Research is also needed on the development of sugar production in the French, Dutch, and Danish Caribbean.

                  • Curtin, Philip. The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic History. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

                    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511819414Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                    A classic in the field of Atlantic history. It is somewhat dated now, but it provides a useful overview. Very sensitive to change over time.

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                    • Dunn, Richard. Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624–1713. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1972.

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                      Eloquent and carefully researched study of the rise to power of the sugar dons of the early English Caribbean. Still stands as the best single work on the early English Caribbean.

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                      • Greenfield, Sidney M. “Plantations, Sugar Cane and Slavery.” Historical Reflections 6 (1979): 85–119.

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                        Critically important article for exploring the movement of the sugar plantation complex from the Mediterranean through the Atlantic Islands and then the New World.

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                        • Higman, B. W. “The Sugar Revolution.” Economic History Review 53.2 (2000): 213–236.

                          DOI: 10.1111/1468-0289.00158Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          An oft-cited and critically important article that explores the ways in which the introduction of sugar transformed the economies and societies of the British West Indies.

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                          • Menard, Russell R. Sweet Negotiations: Sugar, Slavery and Plantation Agriculture in Early Barbados. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2006.

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                            More focused than Dunn on the development of the sugar plantation complex in Barbados. Explores the rise of sugar planting technologies in the island.

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                            • Ormrod, Richard K. “The Evolution of Soil Management Practices in Early Jamaican Sugar Planting.” Journal of Historical Geography 5.2 (1979): 157–170.

                              DOI: 10.1016/0305-7488(79)90131-2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              Careful examination of the ways in which planters in the early English Caribbean adopted soil-conscious management techniques. Shows the introduction of Barbadian sugar planting practices into Jamaica.

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                              • Roberts, Justin. “Surrendering Surinam: The Barbadian Diaspora and the Expansion of the English Sugar Frontier, 1650–1675.” William and Mary Quarterly 73.2 (April 2016): 225–256.

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                                Argues that the development of the Jamaican economy was spurred by the English surrender of Surinam to the Dutch in 1667 and the subsequent arrival of Surinam planters in Jamaica. Shows that, before 1667, Barbadian planters were more interested in the Guianas and the eastern Caribbean as the next major sugar frontiers. Highlights the importance of Barbadian expertise and capital in the spread of sugar.

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                                • Schwartz, Stuart B., ed. Tropical Babylons: Sugar and the Making of the Atlantic World, 1450–1680. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

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                                  An excellent, if eclectic, collection of articles on the expansion of the sugar plantation complex in the early Atlantic. This stands as one of the most important works on the rise of the sugar industry. Includes essays on both the Iberian and the English Atlantic.

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                                  • Watts, David. “Origins of Barbadian Cane Hole Agriculture.” Journal of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society 32.3 (May 1968): 143–151.

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                                    An important but rarely examined article which demonstrates that Barbadians adapted to declining soil qualities and erosion by developing new cane-holing techniques.

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                                    Sugar Slavery

                                    The study of sugar slavery in the Atlantic has been Anglocentric in focus, and a broader perspective is needed to fully appreciate the role of sugar in the Atlantic world. As a crop, sugar did not necessarily dictate a particular mode of production or set of labor relations. Sugar has to be cut and harvested quickly, but, beyond that requirement, there were a wide range of variations in early modern sugar production. Certain aspects of sugar cultivation, such as the use of forced labor in production and the constant population decline of the workers, tended to remain fairly constant in all national histories of sugar in the Atlantic, but other aspects varied, such as the extent to which a particular sugar colony’s production was diversified. A broad transnational and comparative perspective on sugar in the Atlantic reveals the wide range of sugar cultivation and consumption patterns. The following subsections explore the rich literature on sugar in the British Atlantic, French Atlantic, Dutch and Danish Atlantic, Iberian Atlantic, and US Atlantic.

                                    The British Atlantic

                                    Sugar slavery in the British Atlantic has been thoroughly explored, particularly its economic aspects. B. W. Higman has produced several important essays on this topic (Higman 1998, Higman 1996), and Sheridan 1974 is one of the best overall economic studies of the British Caribbean. A disproportionate amount of work on sugar slavery in the British Empire has focused on Jamaica and Barbados. Shepherd 2009 is attentive to the ways in which both sugar producers and non-sugar producers contested the terrain of Jamaica and, in the process, offers an example of the level of detail possible in social histories of Jamaica. Less attention has been paid to smaller sugar producers such as St. Kitts and Nevis or to the Ceded Islands. In recent years, scholars have begun to pay more attention to the role of science and the Enlightenment in the major sugar-producing colonies of the Caribbean. This line of inquiry promises to enrich a discussion that has become stagnant. There are elements of this new approach in Burnard 2004, which also offers one of the richest and most descriptive social histories of the 18th-century world of Jamaica. Burnard’s focus on an individual, Thomas Thistlewood, is a new kind of microhistory in a field that has been dominated by the study of individual plantations. Higman 1998 is one of the best examples of these individual plantation studies. The Scottish archives are a new frontier for the study of British history in the Caribbean. Hamilton 2005 helps indicate why, and adds nuance to the story of British involvement in the Caribbean. Kris 2008 offers a new historiographical perspective on the region that breaks away from the economic histories that have dominated the study of the British West Indies.

                                    • Burnard, Trevor. Mastery, Tyranny and Desire: Thomas Thistlewood and His Slaves in the Anglo-Jamaican World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

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                                      Explores Jamaica during the golden era of sugar production before abolitionist settlement transformed the system. Focuses on the world of a middling Jamaican overseer. A powerfully written and often disturbing account that addresses master-slave relations in the island. Stresses the violence and brutality at the heart of sugar slavery.

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                                      • Hamilton, Douglas J. Scotland, the Caribbean, and the Atlantic World, 1750–1820. Studies in Imperialism. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2005.

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                                        Shows the predominance of Scots in the British sugar islands and stresses their disproportionate involvement in the economy of the region. Argues that they created close family networks that allowed them to become leaders in the Caribbean.

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                                        • Higman, B. W. “Economic and Social Development of the British West Indies, from Settlement to ca. 1850.” In The Cambridge Economic History of the United States. Vol. 1, The Colonial Era. Edited by Stanley L. Engerman and Robert E. Gallman, 297–336. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

                                          DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521394420Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                          An overview of emancipation and apprenticeship in the British West Indies. Highlights the determinative force of sugar in the region and the importance of slave labor in early modern sugar production. Clear and concise.

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                                          • Higman, B. W. Montpelier: A Plantation Community in Slavery and Freedom, 1739–1912. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 1998.

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                                            Focuses on the evolution of a single sugar plantation community. Effectively explores the transitions the community underwent from the pre-emancipation to the post-emancipation era.

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                                            • Kris, Kay Dian. Slavery, Sugar and the Culture of Refinement: Picturing the British West Indies, 1700–1840. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

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                                              Discusses both literary and visual representations of the British West Indies and the tensions that emerge in such representations over the degree of cultural refinement in the colonial backwaters of the empire. Includes detailed analysis of the ways in which slaves and sugar plantations were depicted in the visual imagery of the period.

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                                              • Shepherd, Verene. Livestock, Sugar and Slavery: Contested Terrain in Colonial Jamaica. Forgotten Histories of the Caribbean. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle, 2009.

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                                                One of the foremost experts on Jamaica and on diversity in Caribbean production explores the ways in which livestock farmers (pen keepers) and sugar producers in Jamaica both contested their place on the landscape and created symbiotic relationships.

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                                                • Sheridan, Richard B. Sugar and Slavery: The Economic History of the British West Indies, 1623–1775. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974.

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                                                  Based on deep research in primary sources. Explores the organization and operation of the sugar plantation complex in the British West Indies from the first establishment in the sugar islands of the eastern Caribbean to the American Revolution, the end of the golden era of sugar production. Largely an economic history. Clarifies how wealthy West Indian sugar planters were in contrast to North American settlers, and also highlights the political power of the West Indian absentees.

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                                                  The French Atlantic

                                                  Sugar production in the French Atlantic has been vastly underrepresented in scholarly studies, especially when one considers that by the 1770s the French were the leading sugar producers in the circum-Caribbean world. There were a few important older works of scholarship on the French Atlantic, including several that were published in French, such as Debien 1974. Much more comparative work is needed on sugar production and the evolution of the sugar colonies in the French and British West Indies. Burnard and Garrigus 2016 offers a masterful example of how fruitful such comparative work can be. The literature now needs a similar comparative study for the 17th-century British and French sugar economies of the Lesser Antilles. Startlingly little is known about the early origins of sugar in the French Atlantic. As part of a movement to explore the French Atlantic in more detail, scholars have started to build a literature on the subject, but most of the work on the sugar colonies in the French Caribbean has focused on the Haitian Revolution. Some prominent examples include Dubois 2005 and an older classic, James 1989. David Geggus, one of the foremost experts on the Haitian Revolt, draws attention to the importance of the revolt in the Atlantic world with an edited collection (Geggus 2001). He has also done some important studies of labor forces in Saint Domingue, including a comparative essay on sugar and coffee workers in Saint Domingue before the revolt (Geggus 1993). Overall, the study of Saint Domingue before the revolt is less developed than the scholarship on its revolutionary era, but John P. Garrigus has done some interesting work on the prerevolutionary history of Saint Domingue (Garrigus 2006). Slavery did continue in the French Atlantic after Saint Domingue, and Tomich 1990 effectively explores the history of sugar slavery in 19th-century Martinique.

                                                  • Burnard, Trevor, and John Garrigus. The Plantation Machine: Atlantic Capitalism in French Saint-Domingue and British Jamaica. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.

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                                                    One of the very few works to compare the development of the sugar industry in different empires. Deeply researched coauthored work from an expert on each empire. Focuses on Jamaica and Saint Domingue at the height of their economic development. Stresses the viability and efficiency of the sugar industry before forces external to that industry led to the collapse in each island.

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                                                    • Debien, Gabriel. Les Esclaves aux Antilles Francaises (XVIIe–XVIIIe Siècles). Fort-de-France, Martinique: Société d’Histoire de la Martinique, 1974.

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                                                      An overview of the slave population in the French Antilles at the height of sugar production in the region. Addresses the lived experience of sugar workers. One of the few books that addresses the rise of sugar slavery in the French Atlantic to any significant degree.

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                                                      • Dubois, Laurent. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

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                                                        The best narrative history of the revolution that ended Saint Domingue’s reign as the leading sugar producer in the late-18th-century Caribbean. Includes an analysis of this leading sugar island on the eve of the revolution. Attentive to the many contingencies that shaped the outcome of the revolution.

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                                                        • Garrigus, John D. Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue. The Americas in the Early Modern Atlantic World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

                                                          DOI: 10.1057/9781403984432Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Explores the gens de coleur in Haiti and the society and identity they developed in the most significant sugar-producing island in the French Atlantic at the end of the 18th century. Richly researched and useful for understanding the growth of societies in the sugar colonies.

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                                                          • Geggus, David P. “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 D. Morgan, 73–98. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993.

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                                                            Attentive to the ways in which the kind of crop being grown shaped the lives of the enslaved. Focuses on Saint Domingue and contrasts the brutal conditions of sugar work with coffee cultivation.

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                                                            • Geggus, David P., ed. The Impact of the Haitian Revolution in the Atlantic World. The Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic World. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001.

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                                                              A wide-ranging and brilliant collection of essays on the impact of the revolt that destroyed the world’s richest sugar colony in the 1790s. Includes essays by several very prominent scholars.

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                                                              • James, C. L. R. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. 2d ed. New York: Vintage, 1989.

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                                                                Until the publication of Avengers of the New World (Dubois 2005), this was the definitive account of the Haitian Revolution. It is still a beautifully written and engaging book, and has stood the test of time very well.

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                                                                • Tomich, Dale. Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar: Martinique and the World Economy, 1830–1848. Johns Hopkins Studies in Atlantic History and Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.

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                                                                  Expertly connects the details of sugar production and of slave labor organization and allocation in the French colony of Martinique to larger evolving processes in the world economy. Demonstrates the ways in which the world economy, including the British abolition of slavery, shaped production in Martinique. Pays close attention to the technologies of sugar production.

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                                                                  The Iberian Atlantic

                                                                  In contrast to the French Caribbean, there has been a rich and growing literature on sugar slavery in 19th-century Cuba, including Bergad 1990 and Pollitt 2004. One of the most significant and influential older studies of sugar slavery in Cuba is Fraginals 1976. Given Brazil’s role as one of the longest-lasting and principal sugar producers in the Atlantic, it is surprising that so little has been produced on the subject. Schwartz 1985 continues to stand as the best work on the Brazilian sugar industry. Barickman 1998 provides an alternative example of the kinds of work that can be done on Brazilian sugar societies. In large part, this lacuna in the study of Brazilian sugar slavery is due to lack of sufficient sources. Most of these sources were burned by Brazilian abolitionists. In part, the language barriers have kept English-speaking scholars from exploring Brazil. One of the major questions about the early Spanish Caribbean is why the Spanish, who controlled Hispaniola from the 16th century, did not become the major sugar producers of the Caribbean.

                                                                  • Barickman, B. J. A Bahian Counterpoint: Sugar, Tobacco, Cassava, and Slavery in the Recôncavo, 1780–1860. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

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                                                                    Shows the interrelated history of small farmers and planters in Brazil. Stresses agricultural diversity and the dynamism involved in production decisions. Argues that there was not as clear a divide between sugar plantations and other kinds of farming in Bahia as the literature has stressed. Beautifully written.

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                                                                    • Bergad, Laird. Cuban Rural Society in Nineteenth Century: The Social and Economic History of Monoculture in Mantanzas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

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                                                                      Offers a microhistory of the ways in which the sugar revolution transformed society in Mantanzas, which is the center of sugar production in Cuba. Carefully researched in national and local archives. Includes detailed studies of the owners of the plantations.

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                                                                      • Fraginals, Moreno. The Sugar Mill: The Socioeconomic Complex of Sugar in Cuba, 1780–1860. Translated by Cedric Balfrage. New York: Monthly Review, 1976.

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                                                                        Thought to be one of the seminal works in the study of the Cuban plantation complex. Brilliant study of the rise and fall of the sugar industry in Cuba. Deeply researched. Originally published in 1964 but revised in later editions. Particularly attentive to changes in the landscape. Argues that mechanization and industrialization undermined the profitability of slavery in Cuba.

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                                                                        • Pollitt, Brian H. “The Rise and Fall of the Cuban Sugar Economy.” Journal of Latin American Studies 36.2 (May 2004): 319–348.

                                                                          DOI: 10.1017/S0022216X04007448Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          Traces the economic production of the Cuban sugar economy from its rise in 1800 to the modern day. A good overview that touches on production in the early 19th century.

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                                                                          • Schwartz, Stuart. Sugar Plantations in the Formation of Brazilian Society, Bahia, 1550–1835. Cambridge Latin American Studies 52. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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                                                                            Although Brazil was a significant sugar producer from the 16th through the 19th century, its sugar industry has been under-studied. English sugar production is too often depicted as the archetype of sugar planting. This book is the best work on Brazilian sugar planting. It focuses on just one small area of Brazil and is largely a series of case studies, but it richly explores the lives of sugar workers and the cycles of production.

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                                                                            The Dutch and Danish Atlantic

                                                                            Due to language barriers, the sugar-producing colonies of the Dutch and Danish Caribbean have yet to be mined by English-language scholars to any significant degree. There are alarmingly few works on these regions. Hall 1992 and Oostindie and van Stipriaan 1995 are some rare examples of work on these regions. Jensen 2012 offers a rare and detailed view of 19th-century Danish sugar plantations.

                                                                            • Hall, N. A. T. Slave Society in the Danish West Indies: St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. Edited by B. W. Higman. Johns Hopkins Studies in Atlantic History and Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

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                                                                              One of the few books to explore sugar production in the Danish West Indies, which matured in the late 18th century. The Danish slave-grown sugar system offers useful comparative information about the British West Indies.

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                                                                              • Jensen, Niklas Thode. For the Health of the Enslaved: Slaves, Medicine and Power in the Danish West Indies, 1803–1848. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, University of Copenhagen, 2012.

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                                                                                Deeply researched interdisciplinary study that draws on modern medicine to examine the health problems and causes of mortality of slaves on Danish sugar plantations after the abolition of the slave trade. Demonstrates the extensive involvement of the Danish government in trying to improve the health of sugar workers.

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                                                                                • Oostindie, Gert, and Alex van Stipriaan. “Slavery and Slave Cultures in a Hydraulic Society: Suriname.” In Slave Cultures and the Cultures of Slavery. Edited by Stephan Palmie, 78–99. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1995.

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                                                                                  Discusses the ways in which planters made use of the abundance of water in Dutch Surinam and how that impacted plantation life and slavery in the colony.

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                                                                                  The US Atlantic

                                                                                  US sugar producers were at their height in the 19th century in Louisiana. They embraced technological innovation in planting and adopted frost-resistant varieties of cane to become and compete with expanding production in Cuba. The historiography on Louisiana’s sugar production is still small, but there are a few superb studies. Follett 2005 is by the foremost authority on Louisiana sugar production. Heittmann 1987 is more technical in its descriptions of agriculture, but it will appeal to specialists. Sitterson 1953 remains a classic in this subfield.

                                                                                  • Follett, Richard. The Sugar Masters: Planters and Slaves in Louisiana’s Cane World, 1820–1860. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005.

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                                                                                    The single best study of sugar slavery in the United States. Pays equal attention to both the masters and slaves. Very carefully researched. Attentive to the technological innovations in sugar production in this period.

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                                                                                    • Heittmann, John. The Modernization of the Louisiana Sugar Industry, 1830–1910. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.

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                                                                                      Stresses mechanization and technological progress in the Louisiana sugar industry. The author brings training as both a chemist and a historian to his subject. Situates changes in Louisiana within a world context. Pays little attention to how these technological changes shaped the lives of the workers. Very technical in its descriptions of agriculture.

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                                                                                      • Sitterson, J. Carlyle. Sugar Country: The Cane Sugar Industry in the South, 1753–1950. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1953.

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                                                                                        A classic in the field. The first significant academic study of the sugar industry in the US South. Well written but very dated. Not very attentive to slave life or agency.

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                                                                                        Sugar and Technology

                                                                                        There have been long-standing debates about the compatibility of slave labor and progress or technological innovation. Stage-based theories of progress have asserted the incompatibility of slave-based labor systems and progress. Theorists have argued that the lack of incentive within slavery and the absence of market-deprived slave societies and planters are the necessary preconditions for technological advancement. Theories of development that relied on racialized assumptions about the inability of African slave labor to coexist with technological innovation were prominent in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Plantation societies were understood by abolitionists and then by several older generations of scholars to be resistant to change and innovation. More recent scholarly work has shown the remarkable amount of innovation on sugar plantations from the 16th through the 19th century. Good examples of this work are Sheridan 1989, Cateau 1995, and Follett 2008. Productivity gains were particularly impressive on late-18th-century sugar plantations, suggesting significant innovation and technological improvement. Much of the work on technology and sugar production has focused on the machinery used in production, ignoring the ways in which the more efficient use of resources or the better organization of labor can be seen as a kind of agricultural technology. The study of technology on sugar plantations (agricultural units) demands a definition of technology that does not rely on industrializing societies as its frame of reference. For essays on innovations in milling technology on sugar plantations, see Tann 1997 and Satchell 2002. For an essay that stresses the agency of sugar workers in the development of sugar planting technology, see Otremba 2012.

                                                                                        • Sheridan, Richard B. “Changing Sugar Technology and the Labour Nexus in the British Caribbean, 1750–1900, with Special Reference to Barbados and Jamaica.” New West Indian Guide 63.1–2 (1989): 59–93.

                                                                                          DOI: 10.1163/13822373-90002033Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          Identifies the significant technological changes and productivity increases that transformed Caribbean sugar plantations from the mid-18th century onward, allowing them to maintain high profits. Stresses precision in using terms such as “productivity,” “innovation,” and “technology.” Argues, powerfully, that significant economic progress did occur on sugar plantations during slavery.

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                                                                                          • Cateau, Heather. “Conservatism and Change Implementation in the British West Indian Sugar Industry, 1750–1810.” Journal of Caribbean History 29.2 (1995): 1–36.

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                                                                                            Argues that planters were not resistant to change, and that they innovated in response to depleted resources, changing market conditions, and increases in the price of provisions.

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                                                                                            • Follett, Richard. “Slavery and Technology in Louisiana’s Sugar Bowl.” In Technology, Innovation and Southern Industrialization: From the Antebellum Era to the Computer Age. Edited by Susanna Delfino and Michele Gillespie, 68–96. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008.

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                                                                                              Shows that the South’s most industrialized businesses were the sugar plantations in Louisiana. Major technological advancements in terms of time and labor-saving devices were made during slavery in Louisiana, such as the replacement of animal power with steam power. Demonstrates the compatibility of slavery and technology.

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                                                                                              • Otremba, Eric. “Inventing Ingenios: Experimental Philosophy and the Secret Sugar-Makers of the Seventeenth-Century Atlantic.” History and Technology 28.2 (2012): 119–147.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.1080/07341512.2012.694204Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                Examines the spread of sugar mills from Brazil to Barbados. Argues that this process was closely monitored and discussed by scientists in England. Stresses the role that the chief overseers of processing and skilled African slaves played in the development of sugar technology in the early English sugar industry.

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                                                                                                • Satchell, Veront. “Innovations in Sugar Cane Mill Technology in Jamaica, 1760–1830.” In Working Slavery, Pricing Freedom: Perspectives from the Caribbean, Africa and the African Diaspora. Edited by Verene Shepherd, 93–111. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

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                                                                                                  Challenges the idea that technological advances are inconsistent with slavery by demonstrating the many changes that occurred in sugar-milling technology in Jamaica.

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                                                                                                  • Tann, Jennifer. “Steam and Sugar: The Diffusion of the Stationary Steam Engine to the Caribbean Sugar Industry, 1770–1840.” History of Technology 19 (1997): 63–84.

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                                                                                                    Explores the reasons behind the introduction of steam mills on sugar plantations. Notes that they became widespread after emancipation in the 1840s as sugar prices were falling. The falling prices, Tann argues, forced innovation.

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                                                                                                    Gender and Sugar

                                                                                                    In terms of production, much recent literature has stressed the predominance of women in the menial tasks of sugar production. They did the most demanding and backbreaking tasks on the plantations (such as cane-hole digging and manuring), and they did it in disproportionate numbers to the men. Scholars have also demonstrated strikingly low fertility rates and the longer life spans of women. Dunn 1993, Mair 2001, and Morgan 2006, on slave women, explore all of these issues in the British Caribbean. Follett 2004 examines female mortality and work routines in the 19th century on the US mainland, showing the continuation of the same experiences. Bush 1990 is more problematic in its analysis and tends to essentialize the experiences of women, but it was one of the earliest works on slave women in the Caribbean and it remains one of the major works in the field. Moitt 2001, on slave women in the French Caribbean, is the best work available on women in the French Caribbean, but it has some of the same problems as Bush’s work in its tendency to essentialize women’s experiences. To incorporate women into the field and assign them the most demanding and backbreaking tasks, planters were forced to reconceptualize European gender norms. Morgan 2004 best addresses the interaction between European gender ideals and the system of Caribbean sugar slavery. Research on the intersection of race and gender in the attitudes of sugar planters toward their female sugar slaves has only begun, and more scholarly investigation is needed. The gendered patterns of sugar consumption in the Atlantic have, like many aspects of sugar production, also been overlooked, but Carney 2008 is an example of this new kind of work.

                                                                                                    • Bush, Barbara. Slave Women in Caribbean Society, 1650–1838. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.

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                                                                                                      Remains one of the most widely read books on slave women in the Caribbean. Attentive to the dual oppression of female slaves in the Caribbean. Not as deeply researched as it could be, and less analytical than Morgan 2004.

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                                                                                                      • Carney, Judith. “Reconsidering Sweetness and Power through a Gendered Lens.” Food & Foodways 16.2 (April–June 2008): 127–134.

                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1080/07409710802085999Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                        Argues that women, as they were incorporated into the work force in England, needed to consume more sugar in order to work longer hours. Takes the argument in Mintz 1993 (cited under Consumption and Consumer Culture) about working classes in Europe consuming more sugar during the early Industrial Revolution and explores its implications for women.

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                                                                                                        • Dunn, Richard. “Sugar Production and Slave Women in Jamaica.” In Cultivation and Culture: Labor and the Shaping of Slave Life in the Americas. Edited by Ira Berlin and Philip D. Morgan, 49–72. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993.

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                                                                                                          Explores the working roles of women on sugar plantations, but also examines the occupational life histories of particular women, stressing the different kinds of working experiences they had at various stages of their lives. Uses individual examples rather than overly generalizing about women’s experiences.

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                                                                                                          • Follett, Richard. “Heat, Sex and Sugar: Pregnancy and Childbearing in the Slave Quarters.” Journal of Family History 29.4 (October 2004): 510–539.

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                                                                                                            Shows the seasonality in childbirth rates among slaves on sugar plantations. Connects these seasonal patterns to more brutal labors at certain times of the year. Notes that conceptions were highest during the sugar harvest.

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                                                                                                            • Mair, Lucille Mathurin. “Women Field Workers in Jamaica during Slavery.” In Slavery, Freedom and Gender: The Dynamics of Caribbean Society. Edited by Brian L. Moore, B. W. Higman, Carl Campbell, and Patrick Bryan, 183–196. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2001.

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                                                                                                              Explores the working roles of women on sugar plantations in Jamaica. Shows that, compared to men, women did more menial and demanding tasks and were forced to work more hours in the field.

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                                                                                                              • Moitt, Bernard. Women and Slavery in the French Antilles, 1635–1848. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.

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                                                                                                                Excellent exploration of women’s experiences in the French sugar colonies with a vast array of sources. Tends to essentialize women’s experiences across time and space in the French colonies. Chapters are thematic. Needs to be more sensitive to change over time and differences among the colonies.

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                                                                                                                • Morgan, Jennifer. Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery. Blacks in the Diaspora. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.9783/9780812206371Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                  The key text for understanding the experiences of slave women. Does not essentialize their experiences as women but is sensitive to differences. Includes discussions of women on sugar plantations in Barbados and Jamaica. Expertly theorized and analyzed. The cultural analysis is eloquent and sophisticated, but this work offers little in the way of new evidence on the lives of slave women.

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                                                                                                                  • Morgan, Kenneth. “Slave Women and Reproduction in Jamaica, c. 1776–1834.” History 91.302 (2006): 231–253.

                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-229X.2006.00365.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                    Argues that it was principally brutal work routines and inadequate nutrition that led to low fertility rates among slave women on sugar plantations. Relies on deep primary research.

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                                                                                                                    Sugar Work and Workers

                                                                                                                    The vast majority of work on sugar slaves has focused on their community formation and modes of resistance. McDonald 1993, a study of slaves in Louisiana and Jamaica, is an example of one of the richest studies of slave communities and of the ways in which enslaved sugar workers were able to shape their lives. One of the most important but now older social histories of slaves’ lives is Higman 1984, which is statistically rich and detailed on all aspects of slaves’ lives in the Caribbean. The study of slave resistance continues, but it is now much more sophisticated in its evaluation of slave agency and motivations. Accounts of rebellions in the more current literature on sugar slavery tend to be set within broader Atlantic contexts. Childs 2006 and Paquette 1988 offer examples of how to approach these topics well. A few scholars, such as the author of Browne 2017, are beginning to stress violence within the community of sugar workers, moving beyond overly simplistic dichotomies of master-slave relationships. A more recent line of investigation among scholars has been the working world of slaves. Several scholars have been pursuing other ways of understanding the experiences of the enslaved. Schwartz 1992, Roberts 2013, and Newman 2013 all present slavery as a kind of labor history and explore the working worlds of sugar workers. Newman 2013 examines both “white slaves” and African slaves on early Barbadian plantations, arguing that a class-based labor system led to the development of sugar slavery in Barbados. Roberts 2013 offers a particularly thorough quantifying study of slave work routines. One of the most important and well-known works for understanding labor organization on sugar plantations is Morgan 1988. Scholars still know less about the work routines, labor organization, allocation, and training of slaves than they do about the many ways in which slaves could resist their oppression. The British Caribbean is vastly overrepresented in the study of sugar slavery.

                                                                                                                    • Browne, Randy M. Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.

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                                                                                                                      Stresses the “politics of survival” and violence both toward the enslaved and within enslaved communities on 19th-century sugar plantations. Focuses on Berbice in modern-day British Guyana. A groundbreaking study, based on deep research into the records of protests from enslaved people to legal authorities on the eve of emancipation. Includes much on Obeah practitioners and on ameliorative slave legislation.

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                                                                                                                      • Childs, Matt. The 1812 Aponte Rebellion in Cuba and the Struggle against Atlantic Slavery. Envisioning Cuba. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

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                                                                                                                        Uses the failed Aponte rebellion as a window into a variety of themes in the history of slavery and race in the Atlantic world. It is a microhistory that sheds light on broader contexts.

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                                                                                                                        • Higman, B. W. Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1807–1834. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.

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                                                                                                                          A statistically rich study of slavery in the British West Indies between abolition and emancipation. Relies on the registers of slaves that were drawn up after abolition. Addresses all aspects of slave life, family formation, reproduction, and work.

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                                                                                                                          • McDonald, Roderick A. The Economy and Material Culture of Slaves: Goods and Chattels on the Sugar Plantations of Jamaica and Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993.

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                                                                                                                            Focuses on the lives that slaves built on sugar plantations in 18th-century Jamaica and 19th-century Louisiana. Examines the slave-marketing system on these estates and the goods and livestock that slaves managed to acquire. Expertly pieces together the lives of the enslaved from scraps of sources.

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                                                                                                                            • Morgan, Philip D. “Task and Gang Systems: The Organization of Labor on New World Plantations.” In Work and Labor in Early America. Edited by Stephen Innes, 189–220. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

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                                                                                                                              Discusses the regimented system of labor organization—gang labor—that was ubiquitous on sugar plantations and contrasts that with the task labor on rice plantations.

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                                                                                                                              • Newman, Simon. A New World of Labor: The Development of Plantation Slavery in the British Atlantic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013.

                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.9783/9780812208313Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                Well-written work that includes a chapter on sugar work in the 18th century. Underscores the importance of labor and class in understanding the development of slavery in Barbados. Examines the intertwined histories of white servants and black slaves working alongside each other on 17th-century sugar plantations.

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                                                                                                                                • Paquette, Robert. Sugar Is Made with Blood: The Conspiracy of La Escalera and the Conflict between Empires over Slavery in Cuba. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1988.

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                                                                                                                                  Focuses on a single event, an uprising and conflict in Cuba called La Escalera, which lasted from 1843 to 1844. Skillfully analyzes the many catalysts of this uprising, and is very attentive to the ways in which slaves resisted their bondage in this sugar society.

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                                                                                                                                  • Roberts, Justin. Slavery and the Enlightenment in the British Atlantic, 1750–1807. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

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                                                                                                                                    Thorough comparative examination of work routines and agricultural techniques on sugar plantations in Barbados and Jamaica and at Mount Vernon in Virginia. Based on plantation work logs, business correspondence, and plantation agricultural manuals. Shows wide range of possibilities in sugar production and how work influenced all aspects of slave life. Argues that broader Enlightenment ideas influenced work routines.

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                                                                                                                                    • Schwartz, Stuart. Slaves, Peasants and Rebels: Reconsidering Brazilian Slavery. Blacks in the New World. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992.

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                                                                                                                                      A brilliant collection of essays by the preeminent scholar on Brazilian slavery. Presents slavery as a form of labor history and explores the process of master-slave bargaining and negotiation in the workplace.

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                                                                                                                                      Demographics of Sugar Slavery

                                                                                                                                      The brutal effect of sugar cultivation on slaves throughout the Atlantic has been explored by many scholars over the past half century. Most of that work has focused on the British Caribbean. Kenneth Kiple has written two separate books (Kiple 1976, Kiple 1984) trying to determine mortality and fertility rates among enslaved workers in the Caribbean and what caused this demographic disaster. Tadman 2000 and John 1988 are other important works on this topic. Green-Pedersen 1981 offers a view of demographic disasters in the Danish Caribbean that is a useful point of comparison to the work on the British Caribbean, and Kiple 1976 does the same for Cuba. The causes for the natural decline of the population on sugar plantation are still debated. Most scholars would agree that a combination of hard working conditions and insufficient food kept fertility rates low and mortality rates high. The Barbadian slave population did begin to reproduce naturally after abolition, a variation in the norm that still begs explanation. While many scholars study the issue on a large scale, Dunn 2014 examines this issue on one Jamaican plantation to determine the day-to-day conditions and relations that caused such demographic catastrophe among the slaves on sugar plantations. Dunn compares that to the health of workers on a non-sugar plantation in Virginia. Sheridan 1985 also addresses the demographic question, but the author is equally concerned with examining the ways in which planters and slave traders tried to maintain slaves’ health. Brown 2008 moves beyond tracing the reasons for the high death rates and explores the cultural and social implications of these death rates in sugar frontiers.

                                                                                                                                      • Brown, Vincent. “Eating the Dead: Consumption and Regeneration in the History of Sugar.” Food and Foodways 16.2 (2008): 117–126.

                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1080/07409710802085973Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                        Sugar had a catastrophic effect on the mortality rates of slaves. Funeral rites became an important institution for reinforcing social values in a world constantly destabilized by death. Notes that Mintz 1985 (cited under General Overviews) might have been titled “Sweetness and Death” rather than “Sweetness and Power.” Concerned with the cultural and social implications of the demographic disaster that accompanied sugar production.

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                                                                                                                                        • Dunn, Richard S. A Tale of Two Plantations: Slave Life and Labor in Jamaica and Virginia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674735620Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          Masterful study. Culmination of decades of research. Compares experiences of slaves on Mesopotamia, a sugar plantation in Jamaica, with slaves at Mount Airy, a large mixed-farming Virginia plantation. The first chapter focuses on demography. Its website serves as a companion to the book.

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                                                                                                                                          • Green-Pedersen, Svend E. “Slave Demography in the Danish West Indies and the Abolition of the Danish Slave Trade.” In The Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Edited by David Eltis and James Walvin, 231–257. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1981.

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                                                                                                                                            Older work on demography in the Danish West Indies. Still a useful comparison to the high volume of work on the British Caribbean. Argues a lower rate of natural decline among slaves in the Danish Caribbean and that abolitionist era had little impact. Very detailed population data.

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                                                                                                                                            • John, A. Meredith. The Plantation Slaves of Trinidad, 1783–1816: A Mathematical and Demographic Inquiry. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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                                                                                                                                              Focuses on a statistical analysis of the evidence in slave registration records from the second decade of the 19th century in Trinidad. Assesses the level of mortality. Shows the high levels of decline on sugar plantations in Trinidad, particularly when compared to those on cocoa plantations on the same island. Demonstrates higher levels of decline on English estates than on French estates.

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                                                                                                                                              • Kiple, Kenneth F. Blacks in Colonial Cuba, 1774–1899. Latin American Monographs 17. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1976.

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                                                                                                                                                Illustrates the demographic impact of the sugar plantation complex in Cuba by exploring Cuban census returns. Rich evidence, but the analysis is not as sophisticated as it could be.

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                                                                                                                                                • Kiple, Kenneth F. The Caribbean Slave: A Biological History. Studies in Environment and History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

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                                                                                                                                                  Offers a detailed analysis of the health of Caribbean sugar slaves and their mortality and fertility patterns. An interdisciplinary study that combines scientific research on health with history and archaeology. An unconventional analysis.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Sheridan, Richard. Doctors and Slaves: A Medical and Demographic History of Slavery in the British West Indies, 1680–1834. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511759864Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                    The definitive account of the intersection of medicine and slavery in the sugar-producing colonies of the British West Indies. Discusses the diseases to which slaves were subject in the Middle Passage and on sugar plantations, as well as the changes in the kinds of medical care they received. Does not necessarily equate increased medical expenditures with better health for the slaves.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Tadman, Michael. “The Demographic Cost of Sugar: Debates on Slave Societies and Natural Increase in the Americas.” American Historical Review 105.5 (2000): 1534–1575.

                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.2307/2652029Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                      Argues that a preponderance of males in work gangs on sugar plantations in Louisiana combined with the brutality of the labor made for high rates of natural decrease on sugar plantations in the United States.

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                                                                                                                                                      Merchants and Planters

                                                                                                                                                      The sugar industry and its attendant industries (such as the slave trade) generated significant profits. Planters grew very wealthy and, if they could manage it, they took their wealth and returned to Europe. Pares 1950, an old but still brilliant classic, explored the kinds of wealth that could be made from the sugar plantations. Petley 2009 examines the food rituals among elite Creole planters in Jamaica and the ways in which abolitionists criticized their excessive consumption. Large planters were increasingly absentee, but whether they lived in the sugar colonies or in the metropole, they exercised significant political power. Higman 1967 addresses this political power. Planters and merchants were not distinct groups of people. Owning a plantation was one of many identities, and sugar plantations were usually just part of their economic profile. Smith 2006 examines planters’ many categories of investments and the financial and political power they came to wield. Planters and merchants were not regressive or resistant to innovation in the way that an earlier literature depicted them. Many planters were acquisitive and adaptive capitalists, investing in whatever would help them continue to gain wealth. Higman 2005 offers a rich portrait of the managerial class in Jamaica, focusing on Simon Taylor, who served as a planter and an attorney. The culture and identity of resident whites in the British sugar colonies is explored in Lambert 2005 and Petley 2009. Much more comparative work needs to be done on planters from different linguistic and ethnic backgrounds. Scholars need to examine the slaveholding patterns and identities of non-British planters and their political roles.

                                                                                                                                                      • Higman, B. W. “The West India ‘Interest’ in Parliament, 1807–1833.” Historical Studies 13 (1967): 1–19.

                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1080/10314616708595354Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                        Identifies a group of members of Parliament who owned sugar plantations and exercised considerable political influence over metropolitan policy decisions about the West Indies but had no real impact on domestic policies.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Higman, B. W. Plantation Jamaica, 1750–1850: Capital and Control in a Colonial Economy. Kingston, Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                                          Examines plantation managers, particularly attorneys, in Jamaica. Revises older literature that depicted the attorney system as corrupt and inefficient. Places the attorney system within a broader literature on accounting history, forcing scholars to rethink the ways in which they analyze this period. Very sensitive to the realities of plantation management.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Lambert, David. White Creole Culture, Politics, and Identity during the Age of Abolition. Cambridge Studies in Historical Geography 38. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                                            Explores the construction of “whiteness” and “Englishness” in Barbados during the abolition era. Interesting examination of planters’ cultural and social identities. Explores how resident white planters responded to the growing critique of slavery and the slave trade.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Pares, Richard. A West-India Fortune. London: Longmans Green, 1950.

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                                                                                                                                                              A now-classic account of the Pinney family, a wealthy family of sugar planters from the island of Nevis. Demonstrates how remarkably wealthy the family grew from their sugar operations and explores their political and social influence. An elegantly written and compelling history that has stood the test of time.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Petley, Christer. Slaveholders in Jamaica: Colonial Society and Culture during the Era of Abolition. Empires in Perspective 11. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                                Examines resident planters in Jamaica and the ways in which they responded to the growing critique of slavery and the slave trade and legitimized their role as planters within the Empire. Well researched and clearly written.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Petley, Christer. “Gluttony, Excess, and the Fall of the Planter Class in the British Caribbean.” Atlantic Studies 9 (2012): 85–106.

                                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1080/14788810.2012.637000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                  Examines the stereotype that the British held of sugar planters as gluttons, and looks at how abolitionists used this stereotype to critique the British planter class. An important example of the continuing work being done by the leading specialist on the British Caribbean plantation elite.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Smith, S. D. Slavery, Family, and Gentry Capitalism in the British Atlantic: The World of the Lascelles, 1648–1834. Cambridge Studies in Economic History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511497308Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                    An energetically researched account of the Lascelles family, merchants and planters who were invested heavily in sugar plantations in the West Indies, particularly in Barbados. More of a specialist work for economic historians.

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                                                                                                                                                                    Consumption and Consumer Culture

                                                                                                                                                                    Compared to studies of production, studies of sugar consumption have been undertaken far less readily. The fierce and long-standing historiographical debates about the profitability and viability of sugar plantations and about the causes of their decline have not shaped the literature on consumption to the same degree, and this is part of what has led to less work on sugar consumption. Although the extent to which sugar came to be incorporated into European diets (increasing the caloric content of those diets) in the 17th and 18th centuries is clear, much remains to be done on the cultural patterns and habits of sugar consumption and the ways in which political and cultural meanings were associated with them. There have been a few useful articles on consumption, including Smith 1992 and Plasa 2007, and a very important essay, Mintz 1993. Cultural representations of sugar production and sugar consumption have also been addressed, in Plasa 2009 and Sandford 2000.

                                                                                                                                                                    • Mintz, Sidney. “The Changing Role of Food in the Study of Consumption.” In Consumption and the World of Goods. Edited by John Brewer and Roy Porter, 261–273. London: Routledge, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                                      Shows the ways in which the introduction of slave-grown tropical goods from the Americas transformed European culture. The English consumed increasingly more sugar, which helped give them the caloric base needed to work longer hours during the Industrial Revolution. Bitter drinks such as coffee and tea were more widely consumed because they were combined with sugar.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Plasa, Carl. “Stained with Spots of Human Blood.” Atlantic Studies 4.2 (October 2007): 225–243.

                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1080/14788810701510860Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                        Examines the ways in which sugar was represented in abolitionist literature. The consumption of sugar, because of its link to the gruesome death rates among sugar slaves, was depicted by abolitionists as a kind of cannibalism.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Plasa, Carl. Slaves to Sweetness: British and Caribbean Literatures of Sugar. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2009.

                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.5949/UPO9781846315701Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                          Both a literary study and history. Examines both colonial and metropolitan representations of sugar and the ways in which they have changed over time. Includes discussions of Caribbean authors and their depictions of sugar.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Sandford, Keith A. The Cultural Politics of Sugar: Caribbean Slavery and Narratives of Colonialism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Explores the ways in which six contemporary texts about the West Indies reinforced the cultural and political legitimacy of sugar societies in the Caribbean while simultaneously effacing the violence, brutality, and contestations at work in these societies.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Smith, Woodruff D. “Complications of the Commonplace: Tea, Sugar, and Imperialism.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 23.2 (Fall 1992): 259–279.

                                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/205276Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                              Notes that sugar and tea drinking became linked in Great Britain and the Netherlands. The custom of drinking tea with sugar came to be associated with respectability and affluence and reinforced imperialism.

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                                                                                                                                                                              Sugar Production, Profitability, and the Atlantic Economy

                                                                                                                                                                              The profitability and viability of sugar plantations and their relationship with the abolition of the slave trade in the British Atlantic form the core of one of the longest-running and fiercest debates in Caribbean historiography. The number of works generated by this debate is vast and continues to grow. On the one side, proponents of the “decline thesis” argue that the plantations, because of soil exhaustion, competition, overproduction, or the disruption of the provision trade with North America, became less profitable and less viable in the decades before abolition, and that this led to abolition and emancipation. Ryden 2009 is the most recent and perhaps the best work advocating a “decline thesis,” continuing a tradition that includes the now-classic Williams 1964. On the other side, a group of largely economic historians (see McCusker 1997, Drescher 1977, Roberts 2011, Reid 2016, and Ward 1978) has attempted to show that the sugar plantations, while they may have experienced periods of decline, adapted and continued to profit, and that abolition was not initiated to put an end to a failing sugar industry. Most scholars now side with the argument that the plantations were not in decline on the eve of abolition. Another economic debate—which has been almost as significant a generator of books and articles—focuses on the extent to which the profits of the sugar plantation complex, and the extent to which it relied on a variety of resource industries and manufacturers, drove industrial development in Europe. Darity 1992 exemplifies such work. Morgan 2000 offers a somewhat opposing point of view, arguing that the sugar plantation complex was probably not as important a spur for industrialization in Europe as some scholars have suggested. The notion of a triangle trade in Atlantic sugar production has been challenged in recent years. Scholars realize the importance of the Brazilian sugar industry and the Brazilian slave trade, which, because of the prevailing currents, was part of its own South Atlantic system. Brazilian slave-trading ships traveled back and forth from Angola rather than participating in a triangle trade. Several scholars have begun to explore the ways in which emerging ideas about the superiority of free labor changed labor relations on sugar plantations and spurred abolition. Huzzey 2010 is an example of such work.

                                                                                                                                                                              • Darity, William, Jr. “British Industry and the West Indies Plantations.” In The Atlantic Slave Trade: Effects on Economies, Societies, and Peoples in Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Edited by Joseph E. Inikori and Stanley L. Engerman, 247–280. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992.

                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1215/9780822382379Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                Notes that the Caribbean sugar industry and its impact on industrialization are curiously ignored by the scholars specializing in the industrialization of Britain. Explores all of the economic reasons why the slave-grown sugar plantation complex in the Caribbean and the system of mercantilism buttressed industrialization.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Drescher, Seymour. Econocide: British Slavery in the Era of Abolition. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Maintains that the sugar plantations recovered after the American Revolution and that they were achieving great profits when slavery was abolished, suggesting that it was not economic factors that ended sugar slavery in the Caribbean, but rather a kind of “econocide.”

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                                                                                                                                                                                  • Huzzey, Richard. “Free Trade, Free Labour, and Slave Sugar in Victorian Britain.” Historical Journal 53.2 (June 2010): 359–379.

                                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/S0018246X10000051Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                    Explores the ways in which ideas about the superiority of free labor and the immorality of slavery led to sugar duties and spurred abolitionists, but also examines how the decline of the sugar islands after abolition and emancipation led to changing perceptions of free labor.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • McCusker, John. “The Economy of the British West Indies, 1763–1790: Growth, Stagnation or Decline?” In Essays in the Economic History of the Atlantic World. By John McCusker, 310–330. Routledge Studies in International Economic and Social History. London: Routledge, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      One of the best economic histories to examine the profitability and viability of sugar plantations. Argues that the sugar economy in the British Caribbean recovered after its American counterpart did, and that it continued to enjoy strong profits on the eve of abolition.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery, Atlantic Trade and the British Economy, 1660–1800. New Studies in Economic and Social History. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        A synthesis of the secondary work on slave-grown crops in the Americas (particularly sugar) and of the Atlantic economy. Generally supports the framework of the argument in Williams 1964, but suggests that the impact of slave-grown sugar on industrialization in Britain was probably not as significant as Williams had suggested.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        • Reid, Ahmed. “Sugar, Slavery and Productivity in Jamaica, 1750–1807.” Slavery & Abolition 37.1 (2016): 159–182.

                                                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1080/0144039X.2015.1061815Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                          Written as a counter to Ryden 2009. Important argument against the “decline thesis.” Shows that increasing slave prices were driven by planters’ demand for slaves. Also shows that slaves were increasingly productive, and that this, rather than fear of abolition, drove the demand for slaves. Rich in statistical evidence.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          • Roberts, Justin. “Uncertain Business: A Case Study of Barbadian Plantation Management, 1770–1793.” Slavery & Abolition 32.2 (2011): 247–268.

                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1080/0144039X.2010.547679Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                            Detailed study of one Barbadian plantation. Looks at the impact of a hurricane, rising slave prices, and the American Revolution on profitability on an older sugar island that was supposedly in decline. Finds high profits maintained in part by cost-saving measures but also high risks and unpredictable annual profits.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            • Ryden, David Beck. West Indian Slavery and British Abolition, 1783–1807. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              Focuses on Jamaica. Reinvigorates the “decline thesis” with new evidence. Shows that sugar planters were innovative and that they adopted management techniques that raised productivity rates, but that overspeculation and overproduction led to a decline of the sugar industry. Very thoroughly researched. Contains an excellent chapter on the West Indies’ interest in Parliament.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              • Ward, J. R. “The Profitability of Sugar Planting in the British West Indies, 1650–1834.” Economic History Review 31.2 (May 1978): 197–213.

                                                                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0289.1978.tb01141.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                Uses plantation accounts and discusses the key expenditures and the capital value of sugar plantations. Asserts that sugar planting remained very profitable throughout the pre-emancipation period. Profitability declined in the older islands, but it remained high enough to continue to attract investment.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                • Williams, Eric Eustace. Capitalism and Slavery. London: Deutsch, 1964.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  Written in a powerfully polemic style. Argues that the rise of mercantilism buttressed slave-grown sugar in the Americas and that the decline of mercantilism and the Caribbean sugar plantation system led to the abolition of slavery. Maintains that the profits from slave-grown sugar drove industrialization in Britain. Essentially argues that economic interests led to both the rise and fall of the slave system in the sugar islands. Based on a doctoral dissertation, Oxford University, 1938.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  Abolition, Emancipation, and Sugar Production

                                                                                                                                                                                                  The causes of abolition and emancipation in the sugar colonies are still heavily debated, and the debate stretches beyond the sugar colonies. In the late 18th century, abolitionist and antislavery sentiment became more focused and more clearly articulated, and a little more than a century later, slavery as a system had been completely abolished throughout the Atlantic. In some sugar regions, such as Cuba, emancipation was gradual, as explored by Scott 2000. In others, such as the US South or Saint Domingue, the end of slavery was sudden and violent. The abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of slavery made it very difficult for planters to acquire the labor they needed to ensure the continued viability of the sugar plantation complex. Engerman 1983 explores the options they had. Throughout most of the sugar colonies, planters turned to other kinds of forced labor to guarantee the survival of the sugar plantation complex. This shift to indentured labor was accompanied in many places in the 19th-century sugar Americas by a shift in the labor population from African to Asian workers. This process is explored by Look Lai 1993, and the cultural implications of the shift, including the racialization of Asian workers in sugar frontiers, is examined by Jung 2006. Although the post-emancipation sugar colonies are still less fully studied than the pre-emancipation sugar colonies, several excellent studies have begun to map out sugar cultivation in the post-emancipation Atlantic, such as Figueroa 2005 and Rodrigue 2001, as well as the masterful Scott 2005.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Engerman, Stanley L. “Contract Labor, Sugar, and Technology in the Nineteenth Century.” Journal of Economic History 43.3 (September 1983): 635–659.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/S002205070003028XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                    A broad comparative study of the shift from slavery to different varieties of contract and indentured labor in the sugar colonies of the Caribbean.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Figueroa, Luis A. Sugar, Slavery, and Freedom in Nineteenth-Century Puerto Rico. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      Examines the process of emancipation in Puerto Rico. Stresses that ex-slaves were unable to acquire land or become small farmers after emancipation. One of the most important recent books on an under-studied island in the Caribbean. Particularly sensitive to issues of race and gender in the histories of ex-slaves.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Jung, Moon-Ho. Coolies and Cane: Race, Labor, and Sugar in the Age of Emancipation. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        Explores the stereotypes that were constructed around the Asian laborers who were brought into Louisiana to replace African workers on the cane fields after emancipation in the United States. Attentive to the debates between those who were in favor of importing Chinese laborers and those who were opposed.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Look Lai, Walton. Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar: Chinese and Indian Migrants to the British West Indies, 1838–1918. Johns Hopkins Studies in Atlantic History and Culture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          Explores the return of indentured labor to the sugar colonies of the British West Indies after the emancipation of slavery. Very detailed analysis of how this indentured system worked and where the new sugar workers came from, which was predominantly Asia. This remains an under-studied phenomenon in the history of Caribbean sugar production.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Rodrigue, John. Reconstruction in the Cane Fields: From Slavery to Free Labor in Louisiana’s Sugar Parishes, 1862–1880. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            Stresses the negotiation between masters and ex-slaves of the meaning of freedom and of the terms of labor in Louisiana after emancipation. Focuses on the agency of workers in this process and the bargaining power they had because of their skilled knowledge of sugar production. Not as attentive to the amount of force or coercion planters were still able to wield.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Scott, Rebecca J. Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor, 1860–1899. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt6wrcxxSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Continues to be among the best works on the Cuban sugar industry and the process of emancipation in Cuba. Offers a complicated analysis of the process of abolition that incorporates economic, political, and social factors rather than offering a strict economic-determinist explanation. Stresses the compatibility of slavery and technology. Originally published in 1985 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Scott, Rebecca J. Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba after Slavery. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                Compares two sugar societies undergoing a process of emancipation. Is attentive to the ways in which political, economic, and social history is interwoven in these societies. The kind of cross-national comparative history that shows the promise of Atlantic history. Shows the ways in which the histories of Louisiana and Cuba, both on the Gulf of Mexico, became interwoven over time.

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