Abstract

This article utilizes a scientific definition of “work” to shift enslaved laborers and the environments within which they toiled to the heart of the historical conversation. Though British plantation owners and consumers often figure prominently in historical analysis of Caribbean sugar plantations and rum production, this article’s perspective necessarily relegates them to the fringe of the historical conversation. The preponderance of work on early modern sugar plantations took place at the nexus of human labor and environmental processes. When we understand work as a form of energy transfer, and place it at the center of sugar production, then the Atlantic world emerges as a series of interconnected energy flows rather than merely a collection of shared human experiences. Just as in the present day, early modern sugar agroecosystems were organized around the goal of creating products for blissfully unaware consumers in order to extract as much profit as possible from the work of humans and the environment, often with devastating outcomes for both.

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