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Sugar, science and the history of capitalism

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In recent years, the history of capitalism has gained prominence as a powerful framework for understanding the development of the United States and its relationship to the world. But many of the field’s claims about commodities, networks and knowledge rest on categories which the history of science has shown to be unstable and contested. This paper takes as its focus the sugar trade of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one of the history of capitalism’s canonical cases. Sugar showcases how approaches pioneered by the history of science can reorient our understanding of corruption, monopoly, labour and other problems that remain as crucial to today’s Second Gilded Age as they were to the First.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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