World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 47, March 2017

In this issue:

  1. From the Editors
  2. Review
  3. Recent Publications
  4. PhD Theses
  5. Online Materials
  6. Museums
  7. Research Centres
  8. Indexes


The contents of this Newsletter over the years since its inception have offered a remarkable catalogue of moments and processes in world sugar history and historiography. This issue has links to PDFs which list all of the reviews and reviewers that appeared in issues 1 to 46. A fuller index is being compiled which we shall announce as the contents become available. Please let us know if you spot any omissions or errors.


Dale W. Tomich, Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar: Martinique and the World Economy, 1830-1848, Second Edition (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2016), Pp. xviii + 507, ISBN: 978-1-4384-5917-2 (hc), ISBN: 978-1-4384-5916-5 (pb).

The original version of Dale Tomich’s Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar was published by Johns Hopkins University Press in its series of Studies in Atlantic History and Culture in 1990. The book was reviewed for this Newsletter by Mary Turner (No. 18, June 1991). The new edition, reviewed here, is published by SUNY Press in the Fernand Braudel Center’s series of Studies in Historical Social Science. As Richard E. Lee notes in his Foreword to the new edition, the book is “a distinctive and original contribution that is at once about Martinique and the world as a symbiotic, mutually determinative relationship” (p. xiii).

At the core of the book is a detailed discussion of the sugar plantation complex in the last years of slavery, in which the local features of the production process on the island of Martinique are placed firmly within the context of the larger frame of French imperialism and trade protectionism, the ending of the transatlantic slave trade, fluctuations in sugar markets and sugar prices, and the emergence of competition from the European beet sugar industry. The character of slave labour relations are central to Tomich’s explanation of the ending of the system and the abolition of slavery, and in her review of the first edition Turner debated a number of points to do with the nature of “class struggle incited by market forces”. Her critique centred on issues to do with the association between slave labour relations and obstacles to innovation, the role of provision grounds and internal marketing, and the role of labour bargaining for time as well as material resources.

What is new and different about this second edition published a quarter of a century after the first? As Tomich explains, the main body of the text has not been revised or edited. He has, however, provided a supplementary Introduction, entitled “The Capitalist World-Economy as a Small Island” – to follow the original, “Sugar, Slavery, and Capitalism”. He has also expanded considerably the Conclusion, now called “The Global in the Local: World-Economy, Sugar, and the Crisis of Plantation Slavery in Martinique”. The much shorter original Conclusion was cast more broadly as “Capitalism, Slavery, and the Crisis of Plantation Agriculture”, indicating a revision of the emphasis placed on the role of Martinique as a small island representation of the world system, rather than a mere cog in that system.

In the new Introduction, Tomich recounts in some detail the story of the original researching and writing of Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar, hoping that this will provide readers with “a better understanding of how and why the book was written”. This constitutes in part an intellectual and political narrative, mingling institutional and theoretical contexts with personal encounters with great names, such as C. L. R. James, Immanuel Wallerstein, and Sidney Mintz. The absence of Eric Williams from the argument is perhaps surprising, given the broad outlines of the interpretation advanced. Tomich’s disciplinary formation is in sociology as well as history, and he sees his work as possessing a “distinctive analytical approach to social historical change”, offering a critique of both “Marxist and world-systems approaches to the conceptualization of the relation of slavery and capitalism” (p. xv).

The bulk of the new Introduction has to do with a theoretical discussion of ideas about world-systems and world-economy, and the relations between labour – waged and unwaged – coercion and incentives, concepts of time and space, and modernity. The specific material conditions of sugar production are ever-present, though submerged in this dialogue. Tomich provides quite a dense cover of citations and discursive footnotes to this new chapter, in which he frequently takes issue with the arguments of scholars named and unnamed (the latter probably including Mary Turner).

In the first edition, the Conclusion was just seven pages long. The new version occupies 24 pages, more or less completely displacing rather than complementing the original. Whereas the Introduction is heavily weighted to theory, the Conclusion is firmly rooted in historical analysis – of markets, trade policy, prices, profitability, mill technologies, the limits of land, labour and capital, and the prospects of the sugar industry within slavery. This material is presented free of citations other than Tomich’s own Through the Prism of Slavery. In explaining the end of slavery in Martinique, Tomich points particularly to the contradictions that meant “the material and social integration of plantation production created an organizational structure that impeded wholesale innovation” and encouraged planters to imagine they could “substantially improve the efficiency of their operations and the quantity and quality of their product by perfecting operations in each sector” (p. 409). The usine centrale came to be embraced only reluctantly, as a result of unstoppable forces within the world-economy.

It is good to have these fresh interventions from Tomich, contributing to the continual process of provoking thought. So it is valuable to have this new edition. Unfortunately, however, the new edition has design problems that make it less friendly to the reader. Although the new edition is bulkier, growing from 353 to 507 pages, this is largely the product of very generous margins. It is unclear what the designer wished to achieve by this spaciousness, because the headers are left blank, with the quite useful running chapter titles that appeared in the first edition stripped away. At the same time, the type size of the font is smaller in the second edition, making it harder to read.

More important for the quality of the revised work is the general lack of bibliographical updating and systematic guidance. The notes to the new Introduction cite little recent literature. The list of “Works Cited” has not been revised to incorporate most of this new (post-1990) work, and, indeed, shows only a sprinkling of works published after 1980. None of Tomich’s own publications is listed (just as they were omitted in the first edition). The “Selected Secondary Sources” is inadequate to the task of enabling readers to obtain full details of the works cited in the notes.

In her review of the first edition of Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar, Mary Turner described the work as an attempt to “unite the local history of plantation slavery with the history of global capitalism” and found the book to be “well argued and substantial”, based on extensive archival research, and possessing the much desired qualities that made it both “thoughtful and thought-provoking”. This is an assessment equally true of the second edition. For students of the history of sugar, there is much to learn about technologies as well as labour, though most of this material is to be found in the original text and not substantially advanced in the new introduction and conclusion.

B. W. Higman

B. W. Higman is emeritus professor at the Australian National University and emeritus professor at the University of the West Indies. His books include Slave Populations of the British Caribbean, 1807-1834 (1984) and Plantation Jamaica, 1750-1850: Capital and Control in a Colonial Economy (2005). In February 2017 he published Flatness (Reaktion Books).

Carol A. MacLennan, Sovereign Sugar: Industry and Environment in Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2014), Pp. 396, ISBN: 978-0-8248-3949-9.

C. Allan Jones & Robert V. Osgood, From King Cane to the Last Sugar Mill: Agricultural Technology and the Making of Hawai’i’s Premier Crop (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2015), Pp. xvi + 266, ISBN: 9780824840006.

On 12 December 2016 the last sugar cane was harvested on the Island of Maui, marking the end of Hawaii’s 181-year-old commercial sugar industry. It is thus unfortunate that Jones and Osgood’s history of Hawaiian sugar technology which has a particular focus on Maui and the last sugar cane plantation company, the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company, was published a year before the industry’s demise. Jones and Osgood are agricultural scientists who once worked for the Hawaiian Sugar Planters’ Association (HSPA) Experiment Station and therefore are able to provide an insiders’ perspective. MacLennan, the author of the other book under review, is a continental American anthropologist who specializes in the impact that large-scale industries, such as sugar cane, have on environments and communities. The two books complement each other because MacLennan focusses on the period before the end of the Second World War whereas Jones and Osgood provide extensive coverage of the period since the Second World War.

MacLennan suggests Polynesian settlement of the Hawaiian Islands occurred from around AD 1000 to AD 1400. Jones and Osgood suggest that the Polynesians introduced several varieties of sugar cane to the islands and that mutations of the original introductions seemingly ensued. Sugar cane was a significant cultivated crop for native Hawaiians and used for food, fibre, and medicine. It also functioned as a windbreak and a stabilizer for the berms encompassing flooded taro ponds. In 1788 British explorer Captain James Cook rediscovered the Hawaiian Islands. This marked the beginning of a demographic catastrophe for the native Hawaiians, which historian David E. Stannard has described as the “horror”. MacLennan suggests in her book that it was not just the diseases introduced to Hawaii from 1788 that made a major contribution to the “horror”, but that the outsiders’ environmental impact, both unintentional and intentional, was also significant. She suggests that the American Protestant missionaries who established mission stations in the islands from 1820 onwards exacerbated the environmental transformation of the islands. By the late 1840s the missionaries had succeeded in transforming Hawaii’s communitarian based society into a market based economy. This transformation included land reform that left a large proportion of the Hawaiian commoners landless. The first commercial sugar plantation had been established in 1835 and MacLennan suggests that the descendants of the original American missionaries played a leading role in the subsequent development of both the Hawaiian sugar industry and economy until the post-Second World War era. In 1882 the sugar industry created an industry organization in order to promote its interests, and when these differed from those of the native Hawaiian monarchy it usually prevailed. Indeed, in 1893 the monarchy was overthrown and five years later the Hawaiian Islands were annexed by the United States. MacLennan argues that the development and subsequent management of sugar plantations had a huge impact on the environment, including vegetation, avifauna, and water resources. She also shows how the industry transformed settlement patterns, as native Hawaiian villages were replaced by plantation camps. Attempts by government officials to improve the sanitary conditions of these camps in order to prevent disease were resisted by the less enlightened sugar plantation owners.

McLennan provides an interesting perspective on the history of the Hawaiian sugar industry. However, her book which is divided into thematic chapters suffers from a lot of repetition. She over-emphasizes the role played by the missionary descendants, even although she acknowledges the contribution made to the development of the industry by the German-American, Claus Spreckels. In fact, another German, Heinrich Hackfeld, played a critical role in both the early and subsequent development of the industry, as did some Britons and Americans who were unrelated to American missionary descendants. MacLennan also underestimates the contribution made by the pineapple industry to the Hawaiian economy from the late first decade of the twentieth century onwards. Furthermore, Libby, McNeill & Libby of Chicago and what became part of the California Packing Corporation of San Francisco made major investments in this industry and, thus, there were limits to the sugar industry’s and missionary descendants’ domination. MacLennan provides a lot of interesting insights into the sanitation deficiencies of the plantation camps. She shows that the HSPA made a major effort in response to labour unrest in the late 1910s and early 1920s to improve the camps. Perhaps because the relevant source material is only partially in the public domain, she overlooks the fact that the HSPA remained concerned about the poor working and living conditions contributing to employee dissatisfaction. In 1924 the HSPA commissioned Industrial Relations Counselors of New York (IRC) to advise the industry as to what further steps it could take to counter industrial unrest and attempts to establish labour unions. IRC visited the islands in 1924 and 1925 and produced a two-volume report the following year which highlighted for example that there were still substandard plantation camps that could be improved. In the late 1930s IRC was commissioned once again by the HSPA and the pineapple industry association to advise how to counter a new attempt by labour union activists to organize the sugar and pineapple plantation workers. Whatever short-term benefits were gained from IRC’s expertise, after the Second World War both industries were finally forced to accept the unionization of their plantation workers.

Jones and Osgood provide a more positive history of the Hawaiian sugar industry, with a particular focus on its technological and scientific development. They place much less emphasis than MacLennan on the nineteenth-century history of the industry. Jones and Osgood acknowledge the important contribution made to the industry by the experiment station which it established in 1895. Neither Jones and Osgood nor MacLennan note that after annexation in 1898 the HSPA experiment station had a unique status because all of the comparable experiment stations in the continental United States were publicly funded. Later in 1919 an industry-funded pineapple experiment station was established modelled on its HSPA counterpart. Jones and Osgood show how the Hawaiian sugar industry used technology and science to establish and retain competitive advantage. This was especially important in the post-Second World War era when unionization resulted in a sharp increase in labour costs. Later, as the industry went into decline from the 1960s onwards, securing sufficient water for irrigation became a growing challenge. The industry responded by experimenting with drip irrigation which had been pioneered in Israel. This led to the conversion from furrow to drip irrigation from 1970. However, as the industry shrunk, its political influence diminished and this meant it became increasingly difficult to manage public concerns over smoke from cane fires and factories or its right to use scarce water resources. Jones and Osgood end by speculating the last sugar plantation’s future might lie in some combination of sugar and renewable energy production. But as noted above, this was not to be.

Richard A. Hawkins

Richard A. Hawkins is a reader in history at the University of Wolverhampton, England. His research interests include the economic history of the Hawaiian sugar and pineapple industries. His publications include A Pacific Industry: The History of Pineapple Canning in Hawaii (2011) and a short biography of Honolulu sugar factor and agent, Heinrich Hackfeld, published in 2017 as part of the German Historical Institute, Washington, DC’s "Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present" project.

Ulbe Bosma, The Sugar Plantation in India and Indonesia: Industrial Production, 1770-2010 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), Pp. xii +323, ISBN 9781107039698.

Sugar historians will find this book rewarding as it is rich with details about cane-sugar production in India and Indonesia. The book contrasts the introduction and development of plantation-based production of sugar in both countries following the 1835 abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom and its dependencies. This caused the relative decline of sugar production in the Caribbean and led to the transfer of the plantation system to India and Indonesia, and to the growth of sugar production there.

The book explains that India was in the late 18th century already one of the world’s biggest sugar producers. Its increase in production following the introduction of sugar plantations was for export purposes during the 19th century, but India was then “demoted” (p. 31) to become a major net sugar importer from the late 19th century. By contrast, Indonesia (effectively the main island of Java) was a modest exporter of cane sugar in the late 18th century, then became one of the world’s biggest exporters of sugar based on plantation production, before losing access to export markets in the 1930s, after which growing domestic consumption also “demoted” Indonesia to become a net importer of sugar.

The case of Indonesia is a relatively familiar story as there are several historical studies of the Java sugar industry on which the book draws. Bosma adds new details on the basis of archival records, such as those of the Wonolongan sugar factory. By contrast, the history of the sugar industry in India is relatively understudied. A major innovation of the book is, therefore, that it synthesizes the development of this industry on the basis of published sources and extensive research, particularly on West Bengal, Bihar, and Madras, in archives in India.

A consequence of Bosma’s meticulous research is that the book is very rich in factual details of over 200 years of sugar production, not just the details of different technologies of cane growing and sugar manufacturing and the companies and entrepreneurs involved, but also contextual details, such as policy considerations and decisions in England and The Netherlands, as well as in colonial India and Indonesia, details of the protagonists in those considerations, details about the locations of sugar producing areas, details of the qualities of sugar, etc. And there are details in relation to cane sugar in regions of India and Indonesia, as well as to Cuba, the Philippines, beet sugar in Europe, and so on.

Bosma occasionally reminds the reader of his explanation for the development of plantation sugar production in India and Indonesia, but the reader may struggle to see the forest for the trees. The forest of the book is based on the definition of a plantation: “an entity in which the management of the cash-crop growing unit is in complete control of every aspect of the work process, as well as of the applied technologies” (pp. 25-26). It is not unusual that profit-seeking enterprises seek to secure some control over the conditions under which they operate in order to minimize risks to their assets, knowing that full control is an illusion. But the key assumption of the book is that large commercial sugar enterprises aimed for “complete control of every aspect”. To that end they colluded with government officials in both colonizing and colonized countries at different administrative levels. The argument in the book thus is that “colonial powers” (shorthand for these colluding private enterprises and governments) transferred the slavery-based plantation system from the Caribbean to Asian countries after 1835. They then sought to “change local social conditions to make them suitable for industrial sugar production” (p. 1), i.e. create opportunities in Asia to mimic slavery. Only where they were able to exert such “full control over land and labor” (pp. 130, 267) did plantation sugar production continue in Asia, leading to the industrialization of sugar production. The book argues that this was the case in Java and in some parts of India, where in the course of the 19th century “the global technological convergence of cane processing tilted the balance toward the direct control by factories of the agricultural part of the process, portending victory of the plantation over peasant sugar production” (p. 3). In other areas smallholder cane farming persisted, because the “resilience of local rural economies” prevented the introduction of sugar plantations.

The book professes to focus on “systems of production rather than the experiences of the millions of workers involved” (p. 6). Nevertheless, it discusses the experiences of workers and farmers at great length, because these are planks in the book’s core argument, which is that “precolonial mechanisms of [labour] bondedness […] were rechanneled into coercive mechanisms that could sustain the plantation” (p. 8). In other words, plantations could only grow because sugar entrepreneurs colluded with local elites under the aegis of colonial governments in order to secure full control over land and labour due to the “manipulation of peasant property rights and exploitation of landless or marginalised peasants” (p. 212). The rural elites, comprising landlords and moneylenders, coerced indebted smallholders to lease out their land for cane production, and then forced them to join the indebted rural landless in taking up underpaid sugar plantation jobs “against subeconomic conditions in the growing, cutting, and haulage of cane” (p. 9). In other words, Bosma argues that the profits, growth, and expansion of plantation sugar production in colonial India and Indonesia were sustained by the underpayment of labour and land. Consequently, the book does not spend many words on systematically considering the opportunity cost of labour and capital, nor the value of entrepreneurship in the processes that produced cane and sugar and that marketed sugar, nor the risks to investments in the industry.

In addition, the book argues that India and Indonesia could not escape the plantation system after independence. “[O]nce local inequalities had mixed with the power of the world market, new structures emerged with long-lasting effects that usually survived decolonization” as “the interests of factory management and rural elites […] constituted the backbone of the Asian sugar plantation” (p. 9). Thus, feudalism and capitalism conspired to put in place enduring socio-economic structures that even the governments of post-independence India and Indonesia were helpless to disband.

For all the rich historical detail that the book offers, its conceptualization of the sugar plantation and assumption that the plantation could only thrive through underpayment of land and labour seem rudimentary. As mentioned, there is little consideration of opportunity cost of land and labour in the book. For Java, available estimates of the returns to farmers and rural communities for the land they leased to sugar companies make it very unlikely that sugar companies paid less than the opportunity cost of land. And it seems inconceivable that these companies could have mustered the massive 530,000 wage labourers in 1930 by paying them less than current wage rates.

Pierre van der Eng

Pierre van der Eng is associate professor in international business at the Research School of Management of the Australian National University. His research interests include economic and business history in the contexts of Indonesia and Australia. See, for example, his article, "The main colonial plantation crop: sugar" in Agricultural Growth in Indonesia: Productivity Change and Policy Impact since 1880 (London: Macmillan, 1996), pp. 208-231.



Michael J. Gonzales, Azúcar y trabajo: La transformación de las haciendas en el norte del Perú, 1860-1933, trans. by Javier Flores Espinoza (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos and Banco Central de Reserva del Perú, 2016), Pp. 330, ISBN 978-9972-51-587-3. [This was originally published as Plantation Agriculture and Social Control in Northern Peru, 1875-1933 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985), which reissued the book in paperback in 2015. The 1985 edition was reviewed in WSHN, No. 7, December 1985.]

Richard E. Jones et al, Sweet Waste: A View from the Mediterranean and from the 2002 Excavations at the Tawahin es-Sukkar (Safi), Jordan (Glasgow: Portingair Press, 2017), Pp. 245, ISBN 9780956824035.

Peter Klarén, Formación de las haciendas azucareras y orígenes del APRA (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2016), Pp. 593, ISBN 978-9972-51-095-3. [This is the third edition of the book that was first published in 1970 and revised in 1976. In 1973 it was published in English as Modernization, Dislocation, and Aprismo: Origins of the Peruvian Aprista Party, 1870-1932 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973).]

Journal articles

Daniel Campi, Heitor Pinto de Moura Filho, & Maria Celia Bravo, “Alternativas del intervencionismo estatal en la agroindustria del azúcar. Argentina y Brasil, 1880-1938,” América Latina en la Historia Económica 22:3, 2015, pp. 44-75.

Alex Dubb, Ian Scoones, & Philip Woodhouse, “The political economy of sugar in Southern Africa – Introduction,” Journal of Southern African Studies 2016. [This article provides an historical introduction to what is a special issue on southern African sugar production.]

Rosemarijn Hoefte, “Plantations and labour in the Caribbean in the long nineteenth century,” International Review of Social History 57:2, 2012, pp. 257-268.

Roberta Barros Meira, “Um justo preço para o açúcar: A valorização artificial do açúcar brasileiro na ordem do dia, 1895-1928,” América Latina en la Historia Económica 22:2, 2015, pp. 135-159.

Kate Parry, “Sugar and the English language,” WORD 62:2, 2016, pp. 109-117.

Hugues R. Sánchez Mejía & Adriana Santos Delgado, “Estado, innovación y expansión de la agroindustria azucarera en el Valle del Río Cauca (Colombia), 1910-1945,” América Latina en la Historia Económica 21:3, 2014, pp. 201-230.

David Roth Singerman, “Science, commodities, and corruption in the Gilded Age,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 15:3, 2016, pp. 278-293. [This article examines New York’s sugar refineries and custom houses in the late 19th century.]

Lin Yi, “The coastal northern China sugar trade and Quanzhou merchants from the early-18th to the mid-19th centuries,” Journal of Maritime History Studies 1, 2015, pp. 44-60.

Book review

Óscar Zanetti Lecuona, Esplendor y decadencia del azúcar en las Antillas Hispanas (La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales/Ruth Casa Editorial, 2013). 504 pp. Reviewed by Antonio Santamaría García, América Latina en la Historia Económica 22:1, 2015, pp. 225-227.

Forthcoming book

James Walvin, Sugar: The World Corrupted, from Slavery to Obesity (London: Little, Brown Book Group, 2017). [The Newsletter hopes to publish a review in a forthcoming issue.]


Online monographs

A website devoted to cookery and gastronomy offers a world history of sugar and a complementary history of sugar in Peru.
Carlos Azcoytia, Historia del azúcar (monográfico) (2011 revision)

Carlos Azcoytia, Historia del azúcar en Perú (complemento a la historia del azúcar mundial) (2013)

Online movie

A 15-minute silent movie about sugar-making, filmed in the 1920s. Posted on YouTube by Historia-Bel99TV in November 2015 .


With acknowledgement to

Luana Honório Cruz, Os caminhos do açúcar no Rio Grande do Norte: o papel dos engenhos na formação território potiguar. Universidade do Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil, Doctorate in Architecture and Urbanism, 2015.

John R. Gust, Bittersweet: Porfirian Sugar and Rum Production in Northeastern Yucatán. University of California-Riverside, PhD in Anthropology, 2016. [This is a study of Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.]

Alexandru Lesanu, A Sweet History in Bitter Times: Refining Sugar in the Transnistrian Borderlands (1898-2015). George Mason University, PhD in History, 2015.

Marco Antonio Guzman, Imposing Capitalism: Japanese and American colonialism in Taiwan, the Philippines, and Cuba, 1890s-1920s. University of California-Los Angeles, PhD in Sociology, 2015. [This is a study of the emergence of capitalism in sugar-producing colonies.]


The International Slavery Museum, a venue in the UK’s National Museums Liverpool group, which was reviewed in WSHN, No. 20, June 1995, has exhibits on slavery and sugar plantations in the Caribbean. For an online view, visit:

* * *

The Tweed Regional Museum in Australia’s New South Wales has holdings on the origins of sugar production in the Tweed Valley. Some of the history and photographs are displayed online at:


Several conferences and publications of the Centro de estudos de história do Atlântico in Madeira have been mentioned in past issues of the Newsletter. A point of entry into the centre’s sugar historical research is available at:


Index of Reviews, nos. 1-46

Index of Reviewers, nos. 1-46

An updated copy of this will be kept on the Newsletter’s main page.

This issue of the World Sugar History Newsletter has been compiled by David Lincoln and Peter Blanchard. Correspondence should be sent to David Lincoln, Department of Sociology, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Cape Town, 7700, South Africa, or to Peter Blanchard, Department of History, University of Toronto, 100 St. George Street, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S3G3, or e-mail us at or All issues of the Newsletter can be found at