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Plantation Kingdom

, 176 pages

1 b&w illus

February 2016



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Plantation Kingdom

The American South and Its Global Commodities


In 1850, America’s plantation economy reigned supreme. U.S. cotton dominated world markets, and American rice, sugarcane, and tobacco grew throughout a vast farming empire that stretched from Maryland to Texas. Four million enslaved African Americans toiled the fields, producing global commodities that enriched the most powerful class of slaveholders the world had ever known. But fifty years later—after emancipation demolished the plantation-labor system, Asian competition flooded world markets with cheap raw materials, and free trade eliminated protected markets—America’s plantations lay in ruins.

Plantation Kingdom traces the rise and fall of America’s plantation economy. Written by four renowned historians, the book demonstrates how an international capitalist system rose out of slave labor, indentured servitude, and the mass production of agricultural commodities for world markets. Vast estates continued to exist after emancipation, but tenancy and sharecropping replaced slavery’s work gangs across most of the plantation world. Poverty and forced labor haunted the region well into the twentieth century.

The book explores the importance of slavery to the Old South, the astounding profitability of plantation agriculture, and the legacy of emancipation. It also examines the place of American producers in world markets and considers the impact of globalization and international competition 150 years ago. Written for scholars and students alike, Plantation Kingdom is an accessible and fascinating study.

Richard Follett is a professor of American history at the University of Sussex and the author of The Sugar Masters: Planters and Slaves in Louisiana’s Cane World, 1820–1860. Sven Beckert is the Laird Bell Professor of American History at Harvard University and the author of Empire of Cotton: A Global History. Peter Coclanis is the Albert R. Newsome Distinguished Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author of The Shadow of a Dream: Economic Life and Death in the South Carolina Low Country, 1670–1920. Barbara Hahn is an associate professor of history at Texas Tech University and the author of Making Tobacco Bright: Creating an American Commodity, 1617–1937.

"A concise presentation of some of the best recent scholarship in agricultural history...Environmental historians will find the book useful as an introduction to southern agricultural history, exploring the economic, political, and environmental factors that influenced plantation agriculture."

"Uniformly well-researched, well-written, and well-organized, these essays intelligently connect the Old South's foremost commodities to the world market and suggest similarities and differences between the crops and their rise and fall."

"Plantation Kingdom: The American South and Its Global Commodities will serve nicely in advanced undergraduate or graduate courses as an introduction to plantation commodities; the economic history of the South; and, more broadly, case studies in the history of plantation economies."

"... useful..."

"Readers who are interested in the history of southern slavery and the southern economy will find these four essays interesting. But Plantation Kingdom will also be of great interest to any scholar or student who wants to understand the roots of the world in which we live today."

"Alongside recognition of the southern plantation as a key element of modern capitalism comes the imperative to understand its environmental history as part of a global phenomenon, and Plantation Kingdom is well situated to inspire and facilitate this line of analysis for years to com"

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