Empire of Cotton Cundhill Prize finalist

Prof. Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global History is a wide-reaching examination of the crop and slavery.
Prof. Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global History is a wide-reaching examination of the crop and slavery.

Sven BeckertHarvard professor Sven Beckert’s book Empire of Cotton: A Global History is a fulcrum for the constant global struggle between slaves and planters, merchants and statesmen, workers and factory owners, Penguin Random House said in its preview of the Cundill Prize finalist.
The book went on to win the Bancroft Award, the Philip Taft Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and was one of two runners-up for the Cundill recently.
Beckert writes, “Slavery stood at the centre of the most dynamic and far-reaching production complex in human history. Too often, we prefer to erase the realities of slavery, expropriation, and colonialism from the history of capitalism, craving a nobler, cleaner capitalism.
“Nineteenth-century observers, in contrast, were cognizant of cotton’s role in reshaping the world. Herman Merivale, British colonial bureaucrat, noted that Manchester’s and Liverpool’s ‘opulence is as really owing to the toil and suffering of the negro, as if his hands had excavated their docks and fabricated their steam-engines’.”
Beckert added, “Capital accumulation in peripheral commodity production, according to Merivale, was necessary for metropolitan economic expansion, and access to labor, if necessary by coercion, was a precondition for turning abundant lands into productive suppliers of raw materials.”
Penguin Random House in its preview noted: “Sven Beckert makes clear how these forces ushered in the world of modern capitalism, including the vast wealth and disturbing inequalities that are with us today.”
Beckert’s book was one of three finalists at this year’s Cundill Prize but the jury chose Susan Pedersen’s The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford University Press) as the winner.
Her prize is US$75,000 while Beckert and Bettina Stangneth each win US$10,000 as runners-up. Stangneth’s book is titled Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer.
The jury was comprised of former Cundill Prize finalist Maya Jasanoff, a professor at Harvard; author Anna Porter; David Frum, a senior editor at The Atlantic; former British high commissioner to Canada Anthony Cary and University of Ottawa professor Chad Gaffield.
The Cundill Prize celebrates an author “who has published a book determined to have had (or likely to have) a profound literary, social and academic impact in the area of history.”
Established in 2008 by F. Peter Cundill, it is administered by his alma mater, McGill University.