In 1940, Fernando Ortiz famously described Cuban history as a counterpoint between two very different agricultural commodities: sugar and tobacco. Given that through the nineteenth and into the twentieth century Cuba's national identity, and relationship to the world, became very closely related with the former, this reminder that there was much more to the island than cane was of great importance. As Charlotte Cosner's study of Cuban tobacco shows, up until the early nineteenth century the “golden leaf” of tobacco played a rather more significant role in Cuba's history and its relationship to the world than did the soon-to-be ubiquitous “white gold” of sugar that has tended to dominate the historiography.

However, Cosner diverges significantly from the post-Ortiz orthodoxy, in which tobacco is seen as indigenous, local, and founded on peasant smallholding, in contrast to the alien, export-oriented, plantation-based sugarcane. Drawing on...

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