Michelle Craig McDonald

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:

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Coffee has been one of the top five most heavily traded commodities worldwide for almost a century, and its production and distribution patterns unite all corners of the world. Early production focused on Ethiopia, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean, but comparative advantage in coffee production shifted to the Atlantic during the 18th and 19th centuries. Much of this early regional significance has been overshadowed by scholars’ focus on another topical commodity, sugar, which has dominated discussions of Caribbean agriculture and, by extension, the region’s contributions to colonial British America and the early Atlantic economy. While undoubtedly central to West Indian development, this focus on sugar masks the historical reality of agricultural diversity, and the related experiences of slave owners, laborers, merchants, and consumers that lasted from the 17th century through today. Coffee, indigo, allspice, and ginger, as well as cotton, tobacco, and a range of woods, traveled as far and wide as sugar, molasses, and rum. But because of their historically subservient position to sugar, these goods have collectively come to be called the “secondary commodities.” Of all of them, coffee offers the best opportunity to move beyond sugar in reexamining Caribbean production and its position in the international Atlantic marketplace of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.

Article.  6864 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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