World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 53, March 2020

In this issue:

  1. From the Editors
  2. Updating Deerr: Sugar Production and Refining in the French Empire
  3. Recent Publications
  4. Recent PhD Theses


We begin with a seventieth birthday cheer for Noel Deerr’s encyclopaedic two-volume The History of Sugar, which remains a beacon of reference for historians of sugar and so continues to have an influence today.

Along the same lines, among the titles and topics referred to in this issue are some which resonate with items in recent issues of the Newsletter. Migrant labour is a prominent theme while a forthcoming book adds to Glasgow’s historical importance in the world sugar economy. A couple of titles revive discussion about the direction of causality between sugar consumption and the advance of capitalism.

And, as always, we ask that you keep us informed of relevant research and conference news or any other snippets of interest.


One of the purposes of the Newsletter is to maintain an archive of sugar historical titles as a resource for scholarly researchers. Although unable to offer a complete record, the WSHN presents as comprehensive a survey as possible. Some recent issues have carried a title or two under the heading ‘catching up’, as publications have come to our attention years after their original appearance. We do this on a somewhat larger scale in this section, with a topical rather than a piecemeal catch-up.

France’s metropolitan and colonial sugar industries feature among the many historical items on sugar in Stanford University Library’s online catalogue. We include the following titles with acknowledgement to A biography of the initiator of beet sugar production (initially in Germany, later France) is followed by a selection of the Library’s holdings:

Hans-Heinrich Müller, Corné J. Aertssens, & Jürgen Wilke, Franz Carl Achard 1753-1821: Biographie (Berlin: Bartens, 2002), Pp. 688, ISBN 3870400870 (hb); 9783870400873 (hb).

Alain Buffon, “Les crises sucrières en Guadeloupe (fin du 19e et début 20e siècles).” In Histoire économique de la Caraïbe, 1880-1950: économies sucrières, systèmes bancaires et dette extérieure, modèles de développement et rivalités imperialists edited by Guy Pierre, Nathalie Lamaute-Brisson, & Gusti Klara Gaillard-Pourchet (Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Editions de l'Université d'État d'Haïti, 2012), Pp. 459, ISBN 9789993557401 (pb); EAN 9993557404.

Jacques de Cauna, Au temps des isles à sucre: histoire d'une plantation de Saint-Domingue au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: Karthala, 2003), Pp. 285, ISBN 2845863527; 9782845863521.

Jacques Fierain, Les raffineries de sucre des ports en France, XIXe-début du XXe siècles (New York: Arno Press, 1977), Pp. 632, ISBN 9780405107832.

Jean-François Géraud, Les esclaves du sucre: Île Bourbon 1810-1848 (Saint-André, Réunion: Océan Editions, 2008), Pp. 191, ISBN 9782916533544; 2916533540 (hb).

Jean-François Géraud & Xavier Le Terrier, Atlas historique du sucre à l'Île Bourbon/la Réunion, 1810-1914 (Saint André, Réunion: Ocean Editions, 2010), Pp. 189, ISBN 9782916533940.

Pierre Richard, 150 ans de sucre à Sermaize (1854-2004): histoire de la Sucrerie-Raffinerie de Sermaize et de la Sucrerie de Frignicourt (Langres: D.Guéniot, 2007), Pp. 336, ISBN 2878254139 (pb); EAN 9782878254136 (pb); .

Évelyne Robineau, Raffinage et raffineries de sucre à Nantes: 17e-20e siècles (Nantes: Editions MeMo, 2011), Pp. 128, ISBN 9782352890713 (pb).

Christian Schnakenbourg, La compagnie sucrière de la Pointe-à-Pitre (E. Souques & Cie): histoire de l'usine Darboussier de 1867 à 1907 (Paris: Harmattan, 1997), Pp. 303, ISBN 2738455190; 9782738455192.

Christian Schnakenbourg, Crise sucrière et misère populaire en Guadeloupe au début du XXe siècle: le rapport du conseiller Salinière sur la grève de la canne de février 1910 (Basse-Terre: Societé d'histoire de la Guadeloupe, 2019), Pp. 167, ISBN 9782900339404 (pb); 2900339405.

Maud Villeret, Le goût de l'or blanc: le sucre en France au XVIIIe siècle (Rennes: Presses universitaires de Rennes; Tours: Presses universitaires François-Rabelais de Tours, 2017), Pp. 395, ISBN 9782869064935; 9782753556676 (pb).



Lizzie Collingham, The Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World (New York: Basic Books, 2017), Pp. 408, ISBN 13 9780465093175 (hb). [From the publisher’s notes: “[T]he story of how the British Empire’s quest for food (with the notable inclusion of West Indian sugar) shaped the modern world. Told through twenty meals over the course of 450 years, from the Far East to the New World, Collingham explains how Africans taught Americans how to grow rice, how the East India Company turned opium into tea, and how Americans became the best-fed people in the world. . . . [She] shows that only by examining the history of Great Britain’s global food system, from sixteenth-century Newfoundland fisheries to our present-day eating habits, can we fully understand our capitalist economy and its role in making our modern diets.”]

Jorge L. Giovannetti-Torres, Black British Migrants in Cuba: Race, Labor, and Empire in the Twentieth-Century Caribbean, 1898–1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), Pp. 305, ISBN 9781108423465 (hb). [From the publisher’s notes: “Black British Migrants in Cuba offers a comprehensive study of migration from the British Caribbean to Cuba in the pre-World War II era, spotlighting an important chapter of the larger trajectory of the Afro-Atlantic diaspora. Grounded in extensive and rigorous multi-sited research, this book examines the different migration experiences of Jamaican, Leeward, and Windward Islanders, along with the transnational processes of labor recruitment and the local control of workers in the plantation. The book also explains the history of racial fear and political and economic forces behind the marking of black migrants as the 'Other' and the resulting discrimination, racism, and violence against them. Through analysis of the oppositional and resistance strategies employed by British Antilleans, the author conveys migrants' determination to work, live, and survive in the Caribbean.”]

Chapters in books

Gillian Eggleston, “History of sugar and sweeteners.” In Chemistry’s Role in Food Production and Sustainability: Past and Present edited by Mary Virginia Orna, Gillian Eggleston, & Alvin F. Bopp (Washington: American Chemical Society, 2019), ISBN 10 0841234280; ISBN 13 9780841234284. [From the abstract: “There are seven main phases in the history of sugar and sweeteners, which are discussed herein: (1) 8000 BCE to 0 CE: The extraction of juice from the sugarcane plant; domestication of sugarcane in tropical Southeast Asia. (2) Early centuries CE: Invention of making sugar crystals from sugarcane juice in India; improvements in refining sugar. (3) 700 to 1500 CE: Spread of sugarcane cultivation and manufacture of cane sugar to the medieval Islamic world; first introduction of plantation farming with sugarcane. (4) 16th to 18th centuries: Sugar cultivation and manufacture in the New World. (5) 19th century: Production of sugar from sugar beets precipitated by the Napoleonic wars; introduction of mechanization and modern processing technology. (6) 20th century: High fructose corn syrup and other artificial sweeteners. (7) 21st century: New natural sweeteners and other uses for sugar.”]

E. C. Wells, C. Goudge, A. R. Tricarico, R. Murphy, & G. L. Fox, “Social and environmental impacts of British colonial rum production at Betty’s Hope Plantation, Antigua.” In Archaeologies of the British in Latin America. Contributions to Global Historical Archaeology edited by C. Orser Jr. (Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2019), ISBN 978-3-319-95425-7 (hb); 978-3-319-95426-4 (eb). [From the abstract: “Drawing on archaeological research at the British sugar plantation, Betty’s Hope, in Antigua, the authors outline how different aspects of the production process, including raw material extraction, materials processing, and manufacture as well as the generation of wastes created unique environmental legacies that persist today. The authors conclude that British rum production was internally economically sustainable in terms of the production process but was not socially or environmentally sustainable. Given the unique configuration of British rum production, the authors suggest that similar industries in other parts of the Caribbean may have only had a life cycle of approximately one century, with social and environmental burdens contributing to the decline of individual industries.”]

Journal articles

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (Print ISSN 0023-6942; Online ISSN 1839-3039) in 2017 published a special issue, number 113, on labour history and the “Coolie Question,” edited by Diane Kirkby and Sophie Loy-Wilson. Its articles include:

Evelyn Hu-DeHart, “From slavery to freedom: Chinese Coolies on the sugar plantations of nineteenth century Cuba,” pp. 31-51. [From the abstract: “To supplement a dwindling slave labour force on their sugar plantations, Cuban planters turned to south China’s Fujian and especially Guangdong provinces. From 1847 to 1874 they recruited 141,000 male labourers (125,000 of whom arrived in Cuba alive). . . . The article examines the respective and divergent framing of the bilingual Spanish and Chinese contracts, and the series of regulations designed to control the Chinese workers. Based largely on these primary documents it follows the trajectory of their work history in Cuba from indenture to freedom by way of specific life experiences.”]

Phil Griffiths, “The coolie labour crisis in colonial Queensland,” pp. 53-78. [From the abstract: “The question of ‘coolie labour’ was of great importance in colonial Australia. . . . Sugar planters in Queensland demanded the government facilitate the large-scale recruitment of indentured labourers from British India, and liberal obstruction of this led the planters and their allies to campaign for separation from Queensland. This article describes this conflict. . . . It outlines the role played by British anti-slavery thought, and the belief that such a plantation colony in the north would develop a radically different social and political structure, one that was a threat to the free-labour economy.”]

Audrey Peyper, “Bound for slavery? A Quaker humanitarian critique of waged labour at Koloa Plantation, Hawaii, 1836”, pp. 79-102. [From the abstract: “The humanitarian testimonials of the ‘concerned travellers,’ Quakers Daniel and Charles Wheeler, from Koloa Plantation on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai in June 1836, problematised the early years of the sugar plantation’s wage labour system. . . . Through examination of the Wheelers’ critique of Koloa in the formative years of Hawaii’s foreign-owned sugar plantation system, this article contributes a new perspective on the critical question of whether earning wages under the conditions at Kauai in 1836 excluded the Koloa Plantation labourer from slavery.”]


Khalil Gibran Muhammad, “The sugar that saturates the American diet has a barbaric history as the ‘white gold’ that fueled slavery,” The New York Times Magazine (14th August 2019). [This is a one of the pieces from the 1619 Project of The New York Times Magazine, which it launched in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the beginning of slavery in America.]


Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, ‘With Eyes of Wonder’: Colonial Writing on Indentured Indians in British Guiana, 1838-1917, (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2020), Pp. 224, ISBN 9781789620504 (hb). [From the publisher’s notes: “In the aftermath of slavery, the system of indenture (1838-1917) brought approximately half a million Indians to the Caribbean. The majority of this group settled in either British Guiana (now Guyana) or Trinidad. This monograph demonstrates that in British Guiana, the indenture scheme was habitually unstable owing not just to the actions of indentured Indians on sugar estates, but also the intervention of white colonists, including missionaries, magistrates and politicians whose written interventions helped to destabilise the system. By engaging with a wide variety of texts, this monograph challenges the binaries of ‘coloniser’ and ‘colonised’ by showing that during indenture, the line between the two was sometimes blurred. Further, this book engages with a wide variety of characters and texts to demonstrate that textual ‘creolisation’ occurred in the way in which colonists became influenced by the emerging culture of colonial Guyana.”]

Stephen Mullen, Glasgow’s Sugar Aristocracy in the British Atlantic World, 1776–1838 (University of London Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press, 2020), Pp. 250, ISBN 9781909646773 (hb); 9781912702336 (pb). [From the publisher’s notes: “The wealth generated both directly and indirectly by Caribbean slavery had a major impact on the city of Glasgow, and on Scotland as a whole. Glasgow’s Sugar Aristocracy is the first book to directly assess the size, nature, and effects of slavery’s economic impact in Scotland. Many West Indian merchants and plantation owners based in Glasgow made nationally significant fortunes, some of which boosted the Scottish economy, as did the fortunes of the temporary Scottish economic migrants who traveled to some of the wealthiest of the Caribbean islands. Revealing methods of repatriating wealth from the Caribbean as well as mercantile investments in industry, banking, land, and philanthropic initiatives, Glasgow’s Sugar Aristocracy adds much needed nuance to this subject in a Scottish context.”]


With acknowledgement to OATD.ORG:

José Guadalupe Villagrán, Revisiting the ‘Midwest stream’: an ethnographic account of farmworkers on the Texas-Michigan circuit. University of Texas-Austin, PhD, Anthropology, 2019.

[From the abstract: The dissertation begins "with a historical contextualization of the (‘Midwest stream’) by detailing how an agricultural empire in South Texas and a booming sugar beet industry in Michigan helped to establish a flow of workers from South to North in the early twentieth century. [It continues] by looking at how this stream evolved throughout the century, especially due to the Mexican guest worker program of the World War II era known as the ‘bracero program,’ and post-war industrialization. US agriculture since the mid-twentieth century has followed a trend of increased farm size and crop production that leads to migrant and seasonal farmworkers remaining necessary to this day despite technological advancements in farming.”]

Marion Menzin, The sugar revolution in New England: Barbados, Massachusetts Bay, and the Atlantic sugar economy, 1600-1700. Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, Doctoral dissertation, 2019.

[From the abstract: “[F]actors such as lower prices, greater availability, or social change do little to explain sugar’s popularity in England before the development of the English sugar colonies, when prices remained high (though not prohibitively so) and work rhythms traditional. While the sugar-slave complex did buttress the rise of capitalism – in particular, sugar’s narrow cultivation zone and its capital-intensive processing characteristics encouraged trade and market production of all kinds of surplus commodities, and the wealth it generated fostered capital accumulation and expanded the slave trade – people did not become habituated to sugar because of the cultural and economic changes brought by capitalism. I argue that the sequence was in fact quite the reverse: it was sugar dependency that fostered capitalistic behaviors.”]

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