Review of “Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar: Martinique and the World-Economy 1830-1848”


William A. Morgan (Lone Star College-Montgomery) recently reviewed Dale W. Tomich’s Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar: Martinique and the World-Economy, 1830-1848. A classic text long out of print (first published in 1990), which SUNY Press reprinted in 2016, this book traces the historical development of slave labor and plantation agriculture in nineteenth-century Martinique.

Description (SUNY Press): Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar traces the historical development of slave labor and plantation agriculture in Martinique during the period immediately preceding slave emancipation in 1848. Interpreting these events against the broader background of the world-economy, Dale W. Tomich analyzes the importance of topics such as British hegemony in the nineteenth century, related developments of the French economy, and competition from European beet sugar producers. He shows how slaves’ adaptation—and resistance—to changing working conditions transformed the plantation labor regime and the very character of slavery itself.

Based on archival sources in France and Martinique, Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar offers a vivid reconstruction of the complex and contradictory interrelations among the world market, the material processes of sugar production, and the social relations of slavery. In this second edition, Tomich includes a new introduction in which he offers an explicit discussion of the methodological and theoretical issues entailed in developing and extending the world-systems perspective and clarifies the importance of the approach for the study of particular histories.

Dale W. Tomich is Deputy Director of the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations, and Professor of Sociology and History at Binghamton University, State University of New York. He is the editor of New Frontiers of Slavery, also published by SUNY Press.

William A. Morgan writes: [. . .] The value of Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar’s reissue primarily lies in the new introduction, in which Tomich expands his original analysis by explaining the methodological and theoretical underpinnings of his attempt to understand Martinique’s sugar-based slavery through a world-systems perspective. Based on this interpretation, the need for a reissue is partially explained by a similar, current emphasis among scholars of slavery and capitalism to view the latter not as the beginning and end of the former, but rather an evolving process whose transitions over time were reflected in the local institutionalization of slavery. Although published twenty-seven years ago, Tomich’s initial focus in Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar nevertheless mirrors recent works including those of Edward Baptist, Sven Beckert, and Robin Blackburn. [. . .]

[. . .] It should also be noted that the insistence on a revised framework of interpreting slavery more thoroughly through a global economic context is directly related to another contemporary analytical field, known as “second slavery” studies. This field attempts to distinguish new zones of slavery emerging in relation to changes in the wider economic, political, and social background. Immensely influential in this scholarship, Tomich’s early effort at distinguishing changes in labor practices according to shifts in world markets in Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar provides an additional rationale for the reissue. The principal treatment for this topic is most apparent in one of Tomich’s final chapters that discusses the role of technology in determining slave labor patterns. [. . .]

For printable, full version of the review, see

For more on the book, see

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s