Cover image for The rise and fall of the plantation complex : essays in Atlantic history
The rise and fall of the plantation complex : essays in Atlantic history
Curtin, Philip D.
Personal Author:
Second edition.
Publication Information:
Cambridge, United Kingdom : Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Physical Description:
xiii, 222 pages : illustrations, maps ; 23 cm.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HT1048 .C87 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Over a period of several centuries, Europeans developed an intricate system of plantation agriculture overseas that was quite different from the agricultural system used at home. Though the plantation complex centered on the American tropics, its influence was much wider. Much more than an economic order for the Americas, the plantation complex had an important place in world history. These essays concentrate on the intercontinental impact.

Author Notes

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philip de Armond Curtin was educated at Swarthmore College and at Harvard University, from which he received a Ph.D. in history in 1953. That same year he joined the Swarthmore faculty as an instructor and assistant professor. In 1956, he moved on to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he remained for 14 years. During that time he was chair of the Wisconsin University Program in Comparative World History, the Wisconsin African Studies Program, and for five years, Melville J. Herskovits Professor. In 1975, he joined the department of history at Johns Hopkins University.

In addition to holding Guggenheim fellowships in 1966 and 1980 and being a senior fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Curtin has taken a leadership role in various organizations, including the African Studies Association, the International Congress of Africanists, and the American Historical Association. He also has gained recognition for his influential books on African history, including The Image of Africa (1964), Africa Remembered (1967), and The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (1969). In the latter, he demonstrated that the number of Africans who reached the New World during the centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade had been highly exaggerated.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In 1969 Philip Curtin made his debut in the world of slavery studies with The Atlantic Slave Trade; A Census. Since then he has never stopped examining that unique universe that he previously identified as the "Atlantic system," which in this work he calls "the plantation complex." These 14 essays are linked by their focus on that complex, from its Mediterranean origins to the Atlantic islands, from the Brazilian sugar industry to the rise of New World Spanish bureaucracy. The pervasive theme is the institution of slavery and the part it played in the development of the economic and political structures of South America. Curtin shows how slavery and the production of sugar were modified by each of the European cultures that exploited them for profit, and how the results formed unique worlds in Latin America and the Caribbean between the 16th and 19th centuries. Each of the essays is a synthesis of his previous work. Here he summarizes for the general reader ideas and themes rather than research data. Each chapter can stand on its own but is related chronologically and thematically. Anyone interested in New World foundations should begin with this collection; even experts will find thought-provoking moments here. Curtin's light style and simple organization lend themselves to classroom use. Numerous maps and the short bibliographies at the end of each essay add to the collection's value for the general reader. R. T. Brown Westfield State College

Table of Contents

Part I Beginnings
1 The Mediterranean origins
2 Sugar planting: from Cyprus to the Atlantic islands
3 Africa and the slave trade
4 Capitalism, feudalism, and sugar planting in Brazil
5 Bureaucrats and freelances in Spanish America
Part II Seventeenth-Century Transition
6 The sugar revolution and the settlement of the Caribbean
7 Anarchy and imperial control
8 Slave societies on the periphery
Part III Apogee and Revolution
9 The slave trade and the West African economy in the eighteenth century
10 Atlantic commerce in the eighteenth century
11 The democratic revolution in the Atlantic basin
12 Revolution in the French Antilles
Part IV Aftermath
13 Readjustments in the nineteenth century
14 The end of slavery in the Americas