Bound in Twine is an ambitious study of a seemingly ordinary commodity: binder twine used in the reaper-binders favored by wheat farmers in the U.S. Midwest and Canadian Prairie Provinces between the 1880s and the 1930s. The book studies the commodity chain that began with the production of henequen in the Yucatán, followed by its transformation into binder twine by the North American cordage industry, and ultimately wheat farmers’ use of twine in their horse-drawn reapers. A deep mutual dependency arose between henequen producers in the Yucatán and North American wheat farmers, constituting a “henequen-wheat complex.” Mediating between henequeneros and wheat farmers was the predominantly U.S.-controlled cordage industry, though prisons also produced cordage in several states. The henequen-wheat complex survived until ecological and technological upheavals in the 1930s and ’40s spelled an end for the reaper and hence the henequen trade.

Sterling Evans, whose previous work on the history of...

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