Race, Labor, and Technology in the Cane Fields: Documenting the Louisiana Sugar Harvest, 1844-1917

Dr Richard Follett
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Race, Labor, and Technology in the Cane Fields: Documenting the Louisiana Sugar Harvest, 1844-1917

Richard Follett (University of Sussex, UK)

Utilizing a detailed data set on the performance of Louisiana's sugar plantations, plus other supporting materials, we developed a relational database that addresses plantation production, ownership, and technological innovation across time and space. The database (with its intuitive web based front end) contributes to the study of history and economic development on several fronts: a better understanding of the transition from slavery to other forms of dependent labor after emancipation, the economic development of the US South during the era of international imperialism, economic growth in a key sector of the economy, and it involves innovative use of large quantities of data that are unique in the study of slavery, technical transition, and the rural sector. The database (featuring just a small sample of data) can be accessed at: www.utoronto.ca/csus/sugar (2500 'hits' to date)

The workshop introduces this source and the broader project to scholars. Our particular focus lies with the intersection of race, labor, and technology and during the session, I will focus on technical innovation in the slave era and examine whether slavery was a “pre-modern millstone” for the expansionist sugar planters and whether, in fact, slavery checked economic progress in the cane world. Since sugar was the most capital-intensive staple crop of the Old South, this presentation will gauge the development of a slave-based, agro-industrial regime and track the accommodations that enabled planters to introduce costly vacuum-technology. With reference to the database and manuscript sources, I conclude that the sugar country was an island of the New South within the Old and that chattel bondage did not hamstring technical progress in this industry.

Keywords: Sugar, Modernization, Slavery, Forced Labor, Louisiana, USA, Technology
Stream: Knowledge and Technology
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr Richard Follett

Senior Lecturer in American History, Department of American Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton


The Sugar Masters: Planters and Slaves in Louisiana’s Cane World, 1820-1860.
(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005)

“Slavery and Plantation Capitalism in Louisiana’s Sugar Country,” American Nineteenth Century History 1 (Autumn 2000), 1-27.

“On the Edge of Modernity: Louisiana’s Landed Elites in the Nineteenth Century Sugar Country,” in The American South and Italian Mezzogiorno: Essays in Comparative History, ed. Enrico Dal Lago and Rick Halpern (London: Palgrave, 2002), 73-94.

“Heat, Sex, and Sugar: Childbearing in the Slave Quarters,” Journal of Family History, 28 (October 2003): 510-539. Special Issue of JFH: “William Faulkner Meets Ntozake Shange: A Special Issue on the American South,” ed., Joan Cashin.

With Rick Halpern, “From Slavery to Freedom in Louisiana’s Sugar Country: Changing Labour Systems and Workers’ Power” in Bernard Moitt, ed., Sugar, Slavery, and Society (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2004), 135-156.

“‘Give to the Labor of America, the Market of America’: Marketing the Old South’s Sugar Crop, 1800-1860,” Revista de Indias LXV, 233 (forthcoming, January-April 2005).

‘Lives of Living Death’: The Reproductive Lives of Slave Women in the Cane World of Louisiana” in Joseph Miller, Gwyn Campbell, and Suzanne Miers, eds., Women in Slavery (Forthcoming, Slavery & Abolition)

With Rick Halpern, “The Last of the Sugar Colonies: From Slavery to Emancipation in Louisiana’s Sugar Bowl” in Susanna Delfino, and Michele Gillespie, eds., Southern Industrialization in Perspective (Forthcoming, University of Missouri Press).

Book Reviews--Various published and forthcoming in Slavery and Abolition; Journal of American Studies; Textual Practice; Journal of Southern History.

Atlantic Studies: Literary, Cultural, and Historical Perspectives (Routledge)

Ref: T06P0047