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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: May 2017

Sugar and the slave trade in the development of Atlantic maritime trade

from La forte croissance de l'économie des pêches et des échanges


ABSTRACT. This article aims to describe and evaluate the role of the sugar complexes in the development of the Atlantic zone. The author insists on the practically dominant bilateral Africa- America liaison whereas European historiography underlines the importance of the triangular oceanic system. The success of the sugar complex is not the most impressive manifestation of the Atlantic system development. The author puts into perspective its impact on the European growth of plantation economies in general, and sugar complexes in particular, and stresses its enormous impact of forced labor. If the improvement of the life conditions of Europeans is associated with the development of maritime commerce, the association of conquests and forced labor yields a very different evaluation.

RÉSUMÉ. Cet article a pour objectif de montrer et d'évaluer le rôle du complexe sucrier dans le développement de l'espace atlantique. L'auteur insiste sur la liaison bilatérale directe Afrique– Amérique pratiquement majoritaire, alors que l'historiographie européenne souligne l'importance du système océanique triangulaire. La réussite du complexe sucrier n'est que la manifestation la plus spectaculaire du développement du système atlantique. L'auteur a tendance à relativiser voire minimiser l'impact sur la croissance européenne de l'économie de plantation en général, du complexe sucrier en particulier, pour retenir l'impact énorme du travail forcé. Si l'amélioration des conditions de vie des Européens est associée au développement du commerce maritime, avec les conquêtes et le travail forcé, son évaluation est très différente.

The capacity to develop specialized skills and then trade with others has generally underpinned much of the improvement in human welfare that has occurred since agriculturists began their multi-millennia replacement of hunters and gatherers. But little trade would have been possible without the water transportation that connected environments and regions which contained different combinations of factor endowments. During most of the neolithic and post-neolithic eras “water-borne” meant reliance on rivers and lakes (used for both irrigation and transportation). Ocean navigation for bulk as opposed to high value commodities began only in the early modern period. If the transition to settled agriculture and the emergence of hierarchical societies was associated with rivers (used for both irrigation and transportation), the growth in wellbeing since 1500 could not have happened without oceans and the ability to navigate them.