history, history of africa, history of capitalism, history of europe, history of nature and science, history of race, history of the united states, neoliberalism, science and technology, socio-historical, Uncategorized, world history

Book Review: Sidney W. Mintz entitled, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Penguin Publishing, 1985), Pp. 274

book .jpg Sidney Mintz takes an anthropological approach to discuss the rise of economic gains of the production and consumption of sugar. An important component of this economic feature is in the labor that is used in the manufacturing of sugar. Mintz ultimately tracks “the ways power was exercised” by following the development of one commodity—sugar (xvi). Sugar became a status symbol of “wealthy, power, and status…by eating these strange symbols of his power” (90). This commodity becomes a marker and is a cite that anthropologists and historians can use to locate conceptions and legacies of power, labor, and goods. Mintz states, “Sugar began as luxuries, and as such embodied the social positions of the wealthy and powerful” (140). The author identifies a sociological aspect to the history of sugar as well as a physiological, environmental, cultural and economic  factors that drove this commodity to be purchased and desired.

Sociological: The sociological side for this increased desire for sugar may have been a status or class privilege ambition. Mintz also argues there is also another component to the desire for copious amounts of sugar.

Physiological: The component of a physiological side to this desire and consumption of sugars. Mintz discusses that sweetness would have been known to our primate ancestors and to early human beings in berries, fruit, and honey” (16).

Environmental: This is important in understanding some of the environmental factors in sugar consumption. But what seems to be more profound is the cultural or constructed side of the history of sugar.

Cultural:The definition of culture for Mintz is asserted as, “Culture must be understood ‘not simply as a product but also as production, not simply as socially constituted but also as socially constituting’” (14).

Economic:  Labor and economics of sugar have a deep and significant history that Mintz documents.  It has been asserted by Mintz that, “Using imported slaves—perhaps Europe’s biggest single external contribution to its own economic growth” (55). With the manipulation of labor and creating situations in which labor would become slave labor led to the increase of exploiting resources, labor, and commodities by Europeans.  Mintz discusses this by stating, “Slaves and forced labors, unlike free workers, have nothing to sell, not even their labor; instead, they have themselves been bought and sold and traded” (57). Mintz illuminates the cruel reality of Europe’s commodity history. Commodity of bodies and sugar in concert with one another provided an exotic component to how individuals who labored and those who purchased sugar were positioned. This text provides a inter-disciplined narrative on the history of one commodity and its affects on the world. This is a text anyone could read!



history, history of africa, history of identity, history of language, socio-historical, Uncategorized, world history

📚 Book Review: Mark Horton & John Middleton. The Swahili: The Social Landscape Of A Mercantile Society. Sample City: Eastern Africa. Publisher: Blackwell Publisher Inc. Year: 2000. Pages: 282.


 Horton and Middleton discuss the history of identity and location in their text entitled, The Swahili: The Social Landscape Of A Mercantile Society. These author articulate the history of identity by focusing solely on the Swahili society. Although these authors are not writing this text as a historical narrative it becomes a narrative of Swahilian history. The authors do this by taking a “‘Swahilicentric’ and not ‘Eurocentric’ approach” (p.3). This becomes the methodology that drives this text and offers the current Indian Ocean and African historiography a more micro-history on identity. 

Horton and Middleton go about this text in breaking down major elements of  Swahili society and culture. The starting point is considering the Swahili people as a kind of nomadic folk, thus, creating a large historical footprint. This micro-history becomes a macro-historical narrative. The reader is lead down a path of chronology that includes the location and settlements that were involved in imports and exports of commodities. Trade becomes not as central in the discussion of long term historical relevance of the Swahili societies of today. I do critique the book for its misleading title. The title does lead the reader to think there is much more importance place on “mercantile” or trade elements in this history than actually is in the text. 

Interestingly, Swahilian language becomes another main theme in the identification and historical legend of the Swahili society. The authors state, “the Swahili are no longer a mercantile society of any importance; but their language has become a lingua franca of most of eastern Africa and beyond”(p.14). This is key to the work this book does in the account of Swahili history but as well as the discourse around Swahili identity.

In full this book is broken down into key aspects of Swahili history such as but not excluded to: the importance of Islamic theology, the interconnection of trade across the Indian Ocean, the topography, trade, and the legacy of diaspora. The bookends of this research, start and end with the key argument around identity. Within this central topic of identification, a critique can be made in regards to the pitfalls of reproductions of the Eurocentric narrative. This leaves the reader with a misnomer of agency and power that the Swahili society actually hold in history. Unfortunately, this undermines the central themes of this book. 

Overall,  Merton and Middleton’s text is easy to ready and does a enormous task of highlighting many elements of societal history of the Swahili people. The use of intersectional frameworks brings about a robust account of the past and present. This is identified in the Introduction of the book stating, “to write a history of this people with themselves at the centre we have tried to listen to and understand Swahili ideas of their own society as determined by their own view of the past…all these versions of history are central parts of present knowledge” (p.3).  This is a valued approach in writing histories. This text can be noted as a extensive, thorough, and easy to read socio-historical text that includes the past and present of a complex people and their endowment of language that inhabits most of Africa.