World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 48, September 2017

In this issue:

  1. From the Editors
  2. Book Reviews
  3. Recent Publications
  4. Recent PhD Theses
  5. Online Materials


Recent issues have carried an unusually large number of book reviews, indicating the dynamism of sugar-historical research today as well as the dedication of our growing assembly of reviewers. If reviews have become the chief purpose of the Newsletter, one of its other important uses is to publicize sugar-historical meetings - we have none in this issue and are keen to receive notices and reports about relevant conferences, seminars, or exhibitions for posting in future issues. Such advertising aside, the Newsletter also serves as an archive. Researchers often come across material which is incidental to their project, only to file it again out of sight and never to be used. The WSHN is a suitable alternative repository for these seemingly trivial findings, where they could come to the attention of other researchers. Similarly, we encourage authors of more comprehensive notes or short essays on sugar-historical topics to submit these for possible inclusion in future issues.


Paul Cheney, Cul de Sac: Patrimony, Capitalism, and Slavery in French Saint-Domingue (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2017), Pp. 264. ISBN 978-0-2260-7935-6 (hb); ISBN 978-0-2264-1177-4 (eb).

Cul de Sac is a timely, meticulously researched, and clearly written book about the history of the French noble family of Ferron de la Ferronnays and the sugar plantation they established in the fertile region of the Cul de Sac plain in the Western Province of Saint-Domingue, one of the three provinces that comprised the French colony. Established under French rule in 1697, Saint-Domingue became the most productive and wealthiest French colony in the Americas in the eighteenth century by outperforming all the other French and English colonies in the Caribbean in the production of sugar and coffee for the world market, thanks to its system of chattel slavery and the constant resupply of slaves from Africa. On 1st January 1804, Saint-Domingue became the Republic of Haiti subsequent to its successful 13-year revolution (1791-1804) against French colonial rule and slavery.

By tracing the history of the plantation that Étienne-Louis Ferron de la Ferronnays bought in 1773 until its demise in 1802-1803 (during the revolutionary period) and its eventual take-over by members of the new Haitian ruling class, Cheney is not only recounting the history of Saint-Domingue as a French colony, but he is also providing a history of the central economic role Saint-Domingue occupied in the French economy of the 18th century. In doing so he examines the fortunes that the slave trade and slave labour produced for the French mercantile bourgeoisie and the plantocracy, including the absentee noble and bourgeois families like the Ferronnayses who owned plantations that were run by hired managers/attorneys; the irreversible blow the Haitian Revolution dealt to French imperialist ambitions in the Americas after Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat in Saint-Domingue compelled him to sell the vast French territory of Louisiana to the United States in 1803; and the take-over of the colonial properties by a new indigenous ruling class during the revolutionary period and after independence.

In what follows I shall focus on the three main arguments Cheney deploys in Cul de Sac that together provide the context for the travails and tribulations of the Ferronnays’s plantation. The first deals with slavery and its relationship to capitalism and the capitalist world economy that emerged in the 16th century. Those familiar with the debate on the “transition” from feudalism to capitalism in Western Europe since the 16th century know that at the heart of that debate was the role that international trade, commercial wealth, and slavery in the Americas played in the industrial development of Western Europe, France, and England in particular. Cheney does not engage that debate specifically but he considers slavery to be an integral part of the international division of labour created by mercantile capitalism at the same time that it expressed features of Old Regime France. As he argues in Chapter 2, while the decisions of the Ferronnays’s plantation manager, Jean-Baptiste Corbier, concerning the choice of agricultural techniques, capital/labour ratios, crop mixtures, prices, and the expected profits were dictated by market imperatives, the plantation also retained a household structure that promoted forms of enclosure and self-sufficiency by allowing slaves to produce their own subsistence crops on plantation lands.

This type of argument, however, opens itself to criticisms like that of Orlando Patterson who in Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study argued that the slave provision grounds notwithstanding, slavery in the Americas was in fact entirely capitalistic, and that the problem it presented was not economic but ideological. Since capitalism has been equated with free wage labour, slavery challenged that reduction at the same time that it exposed the reality behind so-called free labour. As Marx had also pointed out, the indirect slavery of the proletariat in Europe required the direct slavery of Africans in the Americas: without slavery there would be no cotton, and without cotton there would be no modern industry.

Cheney is aware of the ideological dilemma that slavery in Saint-Domingue and elsewhere posed for France. But he considers it at the level of the conflicts in France and in Saint-Domingue over the question of liberty and equality for slaves and “free people of colour”, and not in terms of slavery’s ideological relationship to free wage labour. The key question for France and the plantocracy (of any colour) was whether Saint-Domingue’s prosperity could be sustained without slavery. That question came to a head when the slave revolt compelled the Jacobin government in France to abolish slavery in all its colonies, and Toussaint Louverture and his revolutionary army seized control of the colony in 1800. Louverture sought to resume and revitalize sugar and coffee production by inviting the colonial planters who had fled the colony to return and take possession of their properties lest the government seize and transfer them to high-ranking officers of the revolutionary government. That process gave rise to a new indigenous property-owning class alongside those who previously had owned property and slaves among the class of affranchis or free people of colour who together would become Haiti’s new ruling class after 1804.

Since the slaves had been freed, however, the only way to force them to return to work on the plantations was for the government to impose draconian measures that led to what Cheney (as C. L. R. James and Aimé Césaire among others have before him) refers to as Louverture’s militarized system of agriculture. In return for their labour, the workers would receive one quarter of the value of the crops. This is not a new argument and unfortunately Cheney does not follow through on these insights to raise the question of how one should or could (re)interpret the revolution itself since, as he argues, the interests of the new ruling class led by Toussaint Louverture diametrically opposed those of the former slaves who fought for a radically different social system based on the break-up of the plantations and a more egalitarian redistribution of land to the tillers.

This brings me to the third important argument Cheney develops, which has to do with the vexed issue of the indemnity Haiti agreed to pay to France in return for its recognition of Haiti’s independence. As is well known, following Haitian President Alexandre Pétion’s initial offer to pay an indemnity to France in 1814, President Jean-Pierre Boyer (who ruled from 1818-1843) in 1825 agreed to France’s demand for an indemnity of 125 million francs. This was subsequently reduced to 60 million pursuant to further negotiations with the government of Charles X, although because Haiti had borrowed 30 million francs from a French banking consortium to make the initial payments on the original 125 million, it was actually indebted for a total of 90 million francs. Rather than focusing on the threat of military force against Boyer if he refused to the terms of the indemnity imposed by Charles, like so many historians have done before him, Cheney goes to the heart of the issue of property. From the time of Louverture’s government (1800-1803) and especially after Haiti became independent, the new ruling class redistributed land that had once belonged to French planters like the Ferronnayses to Haitians, so that the indemnity was meant to settle once and for all the issue of ownership. As such, France and its nationals like the Ferronnayses would relinquish all property claims against those in Haiti who took possession of their lands. The indemnity, as Cheney puts it nicely, was a matter of “a gentlemen’s agreement between successive landholding elites” (211). If this is the case, however, then on what grounds can he claim, as he does in the Epilogue, that France could “redound to its glory as a respecter of human rights” by returning the indemnity of 1825 with interest to Haiti? That also begs the question: when was France, acting on the basis of its principles, a respecter of the human rights of those it enslaved, conquered, and colonized?

Alex Dupuy

Alex Dupuy is John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology Emeritus and Co-Director of the Wasch Center for Retired Faculty at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT. His most recent books include The Prophet and Power: Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the International Community, and Haiti (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), and Haiti: From Revolutionary Slaves to Powerless Citizens (Routledge, 2014).

Philip A. Howard, Black Labor, White Sugar: Caribbean Braceros and Their Struggle for Power in the Cuban Sugar Industry (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2015), Pp. 320. ISBN 9780807159521 (hb).

Philip Howard’s meticulously researched book examines the experiences of black Caribbean workers, mostly from Jamaica and Haiti, working in the Cuban sugar industry. During the first decades of the twentieth century, the Cuban sugar industry expanded in response to increasing sugar prices. North American corporations took advantage of US political influence over the island to acquire land and build technologically advanced mills. Unable to find enough Cubans to do the difficult work of cutting sugar-cane, sugar company officials convinced the Cuban government to remove barriers to immigration that had limited the number of black immigrants who could enter the country.

Howard examines in detail how sugar companies attempted to exploit and control workers. By allowing Jamaicans to work in skilled positions on the plantation, while limiting Haitian employment to cane cutting, mill owners attempted to divide their workforce. Emphasizing colour and ethnicity to determine employment, housing, and wages, white management worked to naturalize the extreme exploitation of sugar labourers. These attempts to segment workers and prevent mobilization influenced narratives emerging from the Cuban elite that portrayed black Caribbean migrants as a threat to Cuban civilization. Random violence against black immigrants from both sugar company officials and the Cuban public reinforced workers’ subjection.

However, Howard argues that immigrants were able to engage in important forms of individual and collective resistance on plantations. Countering previous arguments by scholars like Sidney Mintz and George Beckford, Howard asserts that Haitian and Jamaican immigrants maintained family ties by bringing family members to Cuba and investing earnings in their families back home. Of particular interest is the book’s careful analysis of spatial relations on sugar plantations. While sugar company management attempted to use the spatial design of plantations to control and keep an eye on their workforce, immigrants claimed land for their own use and recreated peasant lifestyles. In addition, Jamaicans and Haitians maintained Myalist and Vodou religious practices that helped them create dynamic communities in Cuba. Howard argues that these individual forms of resistance created ties between Haitians and Jamaicans that eventually helped them overcome management attempts to segment them. When sugar prices dropped in the early 1920s and treatment of workers worsened, sugar workers embraced ideologies of anarcho-syndicalism and internationalism spread by Cuban labour leaders. This, combined with the spread of Garveyism, helped produce a class consciousness that united black immigrants as they sought to understand and resist their exploitation within the sugar industry.

Black Labor, White Sugar is part of growing academic interest in Caribbean workers in the Cuban sugar industry. Howard makes some of the strongest arguments for the development of a black class consciousness that crossed ethnic lines. Because of limited archival evidence produced by sugar workers themselves, he pulls on a wide range of sources to explore what ideologies workers would have been exposed to. He weaves together archival fragments to paint a picture of immigrants’ experiences in Cuba and to imagine how they might have responded to these circulating ideologies. The argument he arrives at is convincing, if difficult to prove. His assertion that Jamaicans’ and Haitians’ Afro-Caribbean religious practices helped unite them and produce ideologies of community solidarity that resonated with anarcho-syndicalist ideas is especially interesting. The final chapter of the book examines growing xenophobia in Cuba and the eventual repatriation of many Caribbean workers. In response to labour unrest and popular opposition to the US-controlled sugar industry, Cuban political leaders changed immigration laws to classify workers as “illegal” as soon as the sugar harvest ended. Although this argument comes at the tail end of the book, it points to a fascinating transnational production of the category of “illegal immigrant” within the US sphere of influence. As the US militarized its immigration regime and moved to categorize immigrants as illegal and, therefore, “undesirable” as Howard argues, nations within the circum-Caribbean were doing the same thing. Black Labor, White Sugar adds to a wider literature about the connections between corporate agriculture, immigration, race, and xenophobia.

Amelia Hintzen

Amelia Hintzen is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at Yale University. Her research explores the history of Haitian migrant labour in the Dominican sugar industry. Her work has been published in the New West Indian Guide, the Journal of Haitian Studies, and the NACLA Report on the Americas.

Willem van Schendel, ed., Embedding Agricultural Commodities. Using Historical Evidence, 1840s-1940s (London and New York: Routledge, 2017), ISBN 978-1-4724-6186-5 (hb), ISBN 978-1-315-57912-2 (eb).

The concept of commodities being embedded in agrarian systems traces its intellectual origins to Karl Polyani’s work, The Great Transformation (1944). Since then it has taken on new life, via subsequent revisionary scholars, to become a major way of studying the process. This volume of eight essays provides not only a number of case studies (indigo in Bengal, coffee in Mysore, tobacco in Java, tobacco in Bihar, sugar cane in Cuba) but also other more broadly-based analyses of the process in its historical and colonial settings.

The authors have also set themselves a distinctive methodological task: each is working from a particular historical source. At that level, the essays are not merely about the process of agricultural embedding, but also offer thoughtful discussions about source material and the reconstruction of the historical past. How can we, for example, tease from such varied source materials (a diary, a petition, a report, a review, a scientific study) a meaningful and persuasive explanation of a major historical process? The authors are all intent on following the editor’s line so that they discuss embedding as a process, not a static incident. (In this, they follow the argument first advanced by E. P. Thompson in his classic study of the working class in 1963.)

The outcome is, inevitably, mixed. The geographic range is enormous, the chronological span no less daunting, and the subjects under study similarly varied and apparently unrelated. Yet, the authors’ concentration on the process of embedding and their determination to discuss a process give the volume a greater coherence than might be expected initially. Some authors are blessed by their sources. This is especially true of Willem van Schendel’s use of the five-volume diary of Thomas Machell, an indigo factory manager in Bengal. What emerges, even in so brief an essay, is a revealing account of a precarious life and business, which the author cleverly teases from a highly-personal source. It is an excellent example of the use of a private source throwing light on a major historical process. Bhaswati Bhattacharya’s essay on coffee in Mysore makes effective use of petitions to analyse the struggle between smallholders and European coffee plantations – and the role of state authority in the affairs of local agriculture. Ratna Saptari employs a report written by the resident of Besoeki (East Java) as an entrée to the troublesome outbreak of fires in the local tobacco sheds. Again, a simple, single document provides a peep-hole to a broader picture of security and safety in the local industry, and the troublesome issue of land rights. At the heart lay frictions between tobacco planters and merchants, and local peasant workers – and their payment. Lurking behind everything lay the role – and worries – of colonial government.

Tobacco returns, in the essay by Kathinka Sinha-Kerkhoff, but this time in colonial Bihar. Like sugar, tobacco was introduced to suitable locations the world over by colonizing Europeans – Bihar was just one of many. This essay shows the commercial risks involved, not least when the finance involved was alien (British in this case). Like so many other industries, backers could up-sticks and move elsewhere when/if commercial opportunities seemed better. Embedding alien crops in agrarian processes might merely be temporary.

Sugar-cane in Cuba (Jonathan Curry-Machado’s essay) had ancient roots in the island. But the mid-20th century two-volume study of the industry (on which the essay is based), provided a minute analysis of the industry’s basic failings. Those failings were historical and were grounded in the dominance of outside financial interests, and they shaped a general refusal to adapt; to change with the scientific times and bring the industry up-to-date.

Marcel van der Linden’s important piece traces the major patterns in the globalization of particular commodities (indigo, coffee, sugar-cane, tobacco). It gives both context and up-to-date sharpness to many of the issues discussed elsewhere in the volume. It also provides an important analysis of the globalization of production and distribution of cash crops: the very issues which confront all of us, as consumers and concerned citizens, in all corners of the globe today.

This is an interesting volume which offers revealing analysis both of specific issues and broader global questions. It also has valuable things to say about the practice of historical writing. At times, some of the comments may seem obvious: does anyone doubt that a single, obscure or even marginal historical source might throw light on big historical questions? Even so, it is a question worth testing against a range of specific examples. And that is effectively achieved in the current volume.

James Walvin

James Walvin OBE, is Professor of History Emeritus at the University of York and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. His first book, A Jamaican Plantation (with Michael Craton), was published in 1970. His most recent books on slavery and abolition are Crossings: Africa, the Americas and the Atlantic Slave Trade (Reaktion, 2013); Slavery in Small Things (Wiley, 2017); and Sugar: The World Corrupted, from Slavery to Obesity (Robinson, 2017).

Ben Richardson, Sugar (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2015), Pp. 232. ISBN 9780745680149 (hb); 9780745680156 (pb); 9781509501533 (eb).

Ben Richardson, an Associate Professor of International Political Economy at the University of Warwick, opens his book, Sugar, by describing how the global food system has created a “paradox” in which “the world population is simultaneously stuffed and starved” (1). In the following 204 pages of text, Richardson embarks on an ambitious quest to explain the roots of this paradox, its present manifestation, and prescriptions for addressing the inequalities that undergird the global food system. Richardson places issues of social justice at the centre of his analysis, asking why the world’s people eat large quantities of a product that has not only led to diet related diseases but has increased land dispossession and labour exploitation, especially in the Global South. Richardson’s answer is a pretty straightforward one - capitalism.

Historians familiar with the history of sugar will not find much that is new with respect to the historical background that Richardson lays out. Relying heavily on secondary sources, Richardson briefly outlines a general history of sugar, from the sugar revolution of the 17th century, which created a global sugar market based on slave labour, colonialism, and plantation agriculture, through to the rise of the highly protectionist sugar beet industry in Europe and North America in the 19th and 20th centuries, to the emergence of an industrialized food system in the wake of World War II. However, Richardson contends that paying attention to the history of sugar “can do more than simply serve as a backdrop to current events. By showing the contingent and contested way in which things were brought about in the past, we can better think how things in the present might change or be reappraised” (21-22). Rejecting the idea that capitalism develops according to inexplicable laws, either past or present, Richardson hopes that a better understanding of the past can lead to a more just and equitable future.

Most of the book focuses on the period between 1995-2015, which should be of considerable interest to historians, political scientists, sociologists, food activists, and others interested in the global foods system and sugar in particular. Richardson describes how sugar, the fourth most valuable agricultural product on the market, is produced in over 120 countries, with 1.1 million workers toiling in manufacturing jobs and tens of millions more labouring in the fields. Although only 37% of this sugar is sold across state lines, multinational corporations clearly dominate the industry worldwide, and especially in the Global South. Even in an era supposedly defined by trade liberalization, Richardson finds new sources of state protectionism that have allowed powerful actors to exploit vulnerable workers, cheating them out of just wages. Equally important, pointing to specific examples in places like Brazil, India, and Guatemala, Richardson describes how many small landholders have either lost their lands to land grabbing or find themselves beholden to large corporations through various forms of debt or contract peonage.

In the final chapter of the book, Richardson tries to lay out ways to make the global sugar industry “more economically sound and socially just” (176), which he believes involves fostering healthier diets, better wages and working conditions for laborers, diverse landholding and land use, and, finally, fairer means of global exchange. Needless to say, this is a tall order. With respect to consumption, Richardson suggests that rather than simply medicalizing health related problems on an individual basis, communities and nations could more fully support home cooking, healthy school lunches, communal kitchens, and the Slow Food Movement, thereby changing our social relations to food and to each other. With respect to the issue of “Fair Exchange”, Richardson acknowledges a sharp divide between producers in places like Brazil, Australia, and Thailand, who have pushed for greater trade liberalization of the sugar market, and sugar producers in the United States, the EU, India, and parts of the Caribbean, who continue to rely on more protected markets. While this divide may not be fully bridged, Richardson points to cooperatives, boycotts, and the fair trade movement as possible paths forward. With respect to empowering global labour, which has continued to be affected by physical violence, debt bondage, labour outsourcing, and modernization, Richardson briefly mentions the role of labour unions and NGOs, among others, as possible institutions that could confront the power of transnational corporations and their national allies. And finally, with respect to addressing increasing land inequalities, Richardson calls for greater diversification of landholding and crops as a means of creating food sovereignty for those who find themselves at the bottom of the food chain. However, Richardson cautions his reader: “There is no single, universal way to transform the production, exchange and consumption of sugar for the better, and we should be sceptical of anyone who proposes such a feat” (203). He then concludes his book with the comment: “Progressive change will not come from changing our relationship to sugar but only from changing our relationships to one another. That is both the challenge and the potential of the politics of sugar, and, indeed, of capitalism itself” (204).

While Richardson should be commended for laying out a very broad picture of the social, political, cultural, and economic realities (tragedies) of a global capitalism that has opened opportunities for multinational companies to create large-scale industrialized farms in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and thereby disrupted rural labour and land practices, too often his discussion of these developments appears anecdotal. At times, the global focus makes it hard to see social relations on the ground. Perhaps addressing global consumption, trade, labour, land, and future directions in one relatively short volume was too ambitious.

Kathleen Mapes

Kathleen Mapes is an Associate Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneseo. She is the author of Sweet Tyranny: Migrant Labor, Industrial Agriculture and Imperial Politics (University of Illinois Press, 2009). She is currently writing a monograph on immigration politics and rural America.

G. Roger Knight, Sugar, Steam and Steel: The Industrial Project in Colonial Java, 1830-1885 (Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press, 2014), Pp. 256. ISBN 9781922064981 (pb); ISBN: 978-1-9220-6499-8 (eb). [Open Access PDF:]

“History is all about story-telling.” Roger Knight told me this when I met him some four years ago at a conference about the Java sugar industry in the Netherlands. Enthusiastically he talked about the new book he was working on and the significance of telling the stories of people involved in the modernization of sugar manufacturing. It was they, the people, who made “it” happen.

In his book, Knight deals with the modernization of the Java sugar industry in the 19th century which started with the beginnings of the Cultuurstelsel (1830-1870), the Dutch colonial system of forced state cultivation, on Java. Much of the literature heavily criticized the Cultuurstelsel, holding it responsible for inhibiting the modernization of sugar manufacturing, arguing that “real” modernization only began towards the very end of the century in response to a new wave of metropolitan interest and investment. However, Knight demonstrates that “key developments began much earlier. Beginning rather slowly in the 1830s and accelerating fairly rapidly in the decades that followed, Java’s long-established place in the history of Asian sugar manufacture was totally transformed during the third quarter of the nineteenth century” (3).

Yet, this conclusion is not new. Twenty years ago in my dissertation, From sugar mill to sugar factory. Technical innovation in Java’s sugar industry in the nineteenth century (Amsterdam, 1997), I presented the problem, and so was pleasantly surprised on learning that Knight wanted to expand on one of my conclusions. While reading his complete study – I had earlier commented on a few concept chapters with regard to technology – I realized that although the conclusion is not new, the way Knight approaches the subject is. He considers the transformation in sugar manufacturing in 19th-century Java as an “industrial project” and he asks what was needed to make this project a success. He divides his study into three parts: first, he deals with the “Industrial Revolution in Sugar Manufacture”; second, he focuses on the “Peasant Economy, the Money Trail and the Bourgeoisie”; and in the final part, “Metamorphosis”, he demonstrates how these are interrelated. Instead of dealing with these separately, I want to focus here on what held the elements of the industrial project together: the people involved and their (family, friendship, and business) networks.

Knight reconstructs the careers of engineers and entrepreneurs who were vital to the innovation process. In this reconstruction, he also examines the social backgrounds of their families and how they were linked to each other, making ample use of genealogical data. So, for example, he reconstructs the transnational careers of the Scottish engineer Alexander Lawson and the Dutchman Hubertus Hoevenaar. He unravels their professional and family networks. He tells the story of how they brought in new relevant technical knowledge by shifting from one sector to another, for example, from the dockyards to the sugar factory, as in the case of Lawson, or from the beet sugar to the cane sugar industry as Hoevenaar did. Knight also describes why and how they made their decisions with respect to innovations in sugar manufacturing. But the story does not stop here: he also tells the story of how they became members of a rising Indies bourgeoisie.

The Indies bourgeoisie was a “creole” bourgeoisie. During the 19th century, Europeans who entered the colony were nearly always single men. Many of them married or lived informally with Asian women or with women of Asian-European descent. It is fascinating to see how Knight uses genealogical research to clarify the networks of these “sugar” families. He has discovered that marriages of daughters and sons with strategic business partners were abundant. This Indies bourgeoisie branched out in all layers of society, the European of which the Asian-European (or Indo-European) community was part, as well as the Chinese, the Javanese, and so on.

With respect to the capital necessary for the industrial project, the sugar manufacturers were not only dependent on state and metropolitan capital to innovate, but also attracted investment from the Indies bourgeoisie, which secured capital in the Indies itself. Knight provides several examples of how this capital was accumulated by manufacturers by using family and business networks.

The sugar entrepreneurs in the Indies were mainly imperial families. There was a constant coming and going of family members between the metropolis and the colony. Some older ones returned home for retirement, others went on European leave, and the Indies-born children, often of mixed descent, went “home” to get a European education and upbringing. Knight calls them “imperial families with metropolitan connections” and demonstrates that these metropolitan connections were important for the financing of sugar manufacturing. Again, strategic marriages played a key role in expanding the network of men and women of significance in the sugar industry in the Indies. The story of the Hoevenaar family is illustrative. These metropolitan relations became of key significance during the 1880s when the industrial project was threatened with annihilation. One example is Jan Hudig who started his career in the Indies at the age of twenty-four and became firmly embedded in bourgeois society. He ended his career in the Netherlands as founder of the Koloniale Bank, an important investor of capital in agricultural enterprises in the Indies. According to Knight, “Hudig was far from being an isolated figure . . . . It was people like him, with a foot in the two worlds of Indies entrepreneurship and Netherlands capital, who were indicative of the community of bourgeois interests in colony and metropolis which would see the industry through a period in its history potentially disastrous for the Indies bourgeoisie and the industrial project they had promoted over the preceding decades” (174).

There is much more in this study: I have only lifted a corner of the veil. In order really to understand what happened to make the industrial project successful one has to focus, as Knight does, on the people involved and the transnational and local networks they were able to build. Their stories frame these networks which are the fluid mortar that connects the segments of which the industrial project is constituted.

Knight’s study is one of exceptional insight because he uses several perspectives to unravel the (invisible) processes that underlie Java’s sugar project. But there is another dimension: his stories trigger your imagination. Knight takes some of the leading persons who appeared in my own dissertation and makes them more complete by adding genealogical research data and deeper historical background. He takes the reader along into the 19th-century world of the Netherlands East Indies and of the imperial families in the Indies community. It is a world of its own. History is story-telling, Knight said, and I must say that he has succeeded admirably in telling the story of Java’s industrial project in this book.

Margaret Leidelmeijer

Margaret Leidelmeijer is an independent historical researcher and consultant in the Netherlands whose sugar-historical work includes Van Suikermolen tot Grootbedriff: Technishe Verniewing in de Java-Suikerindustrie in de Negentiede Eeuw (Amsterdam: Nederlands Economisch-Historisch Archief, 1997) [reviewed in WSHN No 25] and Plantages in Nederlands-Indië, de lange negentiende eeuw: ‘Het verhaal van Indië’ uitgediept (Arnhem: Indisch Herinneringscentrum, 2012).]

Journal articles

Alex Myers, David Fig, Aviva Tugendhaft, Jonathan E Myers, & Karen J Hofman. “The history of the South African sugar industry illuminates deeply rooted obstacles for sugar reduction anti-obesity interventions,” Journal of Southern African Studies (May 2017), pp. 1-16.

David Singerman. “The limits of chemical control in the Caribbean sugar factory,” Radical History Review (2017), 127, pp. 39-61.


With acknowledgement to OATD.ORG:

Nathalie Cazelles, Évolution et adaptation des industries sucrière et rhumière en Guyane, XVIIe-XXe siècle (The sugar industry in French Guiana, from the 17th to the 20th century). Paris, EPHE, Docteur es, Archéologie, 2016.

Amelia M. Hintzen, Cultivating Resistance: Haitian-Dominican Communities and the Dominican Sugar Industry, 1915-1990. University of Miami, PhD in History (Arts and Sciences), 2016.

Lawrence Helfgott Kessler, Planter’s Paradise: Nature, Culture, and Hawai'i’s Sugarcane Plantations. Temple University, PhD in History, 2016.,374197

Kara Danielle Schultz, ‘The Kingdom of Angola is not Very Far from Here’: The Río de la Plata, Brazil, and Angola, 1580-1680. Vanderbilt University, PhD in History, 2016.

Alice Yamada-Desnos, Patrimoine industriel et lieux de mémoires à Taiwan: l'exemple des raffineries de sucre et de leurs reconversions (Industrial heritage and memorial sites in Taiwan: the example of sugar refineries and their reconversions). Aix Marseille Université, Docteur es, Histoire, 2015.


Articles and monographs

Michael Hardy, “Blood and sugar: A former prison guard’s quixotic campaign to make a Houston suburb confront its history,” Texas Monthly, January 2017. [A campaign related to the history of sugar produced by slave labour followed by convict labour]

Another (since our last issue) history of sugar published on a culinary/gastronomic web site:

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 Past issues of the Newsletter can be found at