Brown Bag Lecture: “Fraud and Suspicion in the Atlantic Sugar Trade”

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Date: November 13, 2012
Time: 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.

315 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Event Type: Open to the Public
Fee: Free
RSVP Online: No Registration Required

A talk by David Singerman

Toward the end of the 19th century new devices and types of people began to appear in the crucial sites of the Atlantic sugar economy. As costly machines replaced animals and humans within the sugar mill, chemists promised owners vast gains in efficiency if they only would hand authority to chemical knowledge, methods, and instruments. In the United States a mix of diversely interested advocates claimed for those practices and instruments the power to drive rampant corruption from customs houses in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Such corruption was allegedly made easier by the same confusing changes to centuries-old methods of production in Caribbean factories. But everywhere the chemists’ supervision of the sugar trade did far more to fuel suspicions of corruption and fraud than it did to dampen them. It enabled the consolidation of economic and political power: by factory owners over the farmers from whom they purchased their sugar cane and by the American Sugar Refining Company over the whole industry, and even the government of the United States.

David Singerman is a Ph.D. candidate at MIT’s Program in History, Anthropology, and STS. In 2011–12 he conducted research in the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico with the support of the National Science Foundation and Social Science Research Council.

About Brown Bag Lectures

Brown Bag Lectures (BBLs) are a series of weekly informal talks on the history of chemistry or related subjects, including the history and social studies of science, technology, and medicine. Based on original research (sometimes still in progress), these talks are given by local scholars for an audience of CHF staff and fellows and interested members of the public.

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