Eurasia in the Modern Period:Towards a New World History

Details of

Sugar and Slavery: towards a New World History(Nov. 17-19, 2012)

Jun 12, 2013

A 3-day international workshop entitled “Sugar and Slavery: towards a New World History” was held in November at Toshi Center Hotel and the University of Tokyo’s Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia.


Nov. 17

The first day’s session, entitled “Sugar in Early Modern Asia: Production, Trade and Consumption Culture,” was held with “sugar” as its main theme. After an opening speech by Masashi Haneda (UT: University of Tokyo), Ryuto Shimada (UT), one of the main organizers of the workshop, explained the aims of the workshop.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Asian sugar production and export volumes underwent a massive expansion, which led to the growing importance of the sugar trade. In spite of this, regional developments in Asia with regard to the sugar trade have received hardly any attention in previous research. The aims of the first day’s session and its five featured presentations were to depict the history of the Asian sugar trade in terms the production of sugar, the people involved in the sugar trade and the development of sugar consumption culture, while also considering what form the narratives of “a new world history” should take.



 The first presentation was “Taiwanese Sugar in the Dutch Colonial Era” by Hui-wen Koo (National Taiwan University).

Koo describes the people involved in sugar production in Taiwan, major destinations for exports, the role played by the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) and its relationship with WIC (the Dutch West India Company) before moving on to discuss the ways in which Chinese maritime policy during this period hurt China, both in terms of lost profits and foregone opportunities, in its competition with the west.

During the question and answer section, Koo received questions from the audience regarding the specific entities being referred to in the presentation’s use of such terms as “the Chinese government” and “European.”




The next presentation, “Local Commodity for International Market: The Early Eighteenth Century Sugar Production in the Ommelanden of Batavia” by Bondan Kanumoyoso (University of Indonesia), explores and sheds light on how the expanding demand for sugar in Asian markets from the late 17th century onward stimulated the growth of the sugar industry in and around the Batavia (now Jakarta) Region of Indonesia; how this brought in an influx of laborers, an increased population and signs of greater economic activity; and how collapses in the demand for sugar in international markets would later cause the region’s sugar industry to decline, ultimately contributing to the destabilization of Batavian society.

One of the questions raised by the audience during the question and answer section concerned the relationship between the political instability of the Safavid Dynasty and the decline in trade activities.



The next presentation, “India in the World Sugar Market: Production, Trade and Consumption in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries” by Ghulam A. Nadri (London School of Economics/Georgia State University), shows how Indian-produced sugar was an important product in terms of both trade within Asia and trade between Asia and Europe, while additionally noting that there was also an enormous demand for sugar in northwestern India during the 18th century.

During the question and answer section, it was pointed out by the audience that it was necessary to pay attention not only to political factors, but also to the environmental factors that brought these about. 





The next presentation, “Sweet Stuff along the Coast: An Analysis of Java’s Maritime Sugar Trade in the Second Part of the Eighteenth Century” by Gerrit Knaap (Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands), discusses the different varieties of sugar and their various uses. Knaap notes that while fine-grain sugar was reserved for long-distance trade, palm sugar was mostly used for local consumption. He also points out that as the demand for sugar reached its peak in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, the VOC began purchasing sugar from Java as well as Indonesia.

The question and answer section included remarks from the audience regarding differences and similarities between the production of palm sugar and normal sugar.




2012-11-17(7).JPGThe next presentation, “Emergence of a Borderland Society: Migration and Opium Trade in the Sugar Industry in West Java, c. 1780-1800” by Atsushi Ota (Hiroshima University), discusses and sheds light on how the rise of the sugar industry became the impetus for the emergence of “borderland society” in the outlying areas around the CiSadane region, leading to an influx of laborers and also greater contact with outside regions; how smuggling became more widespread, bringing about a change in the monopolistic position of the VOC; and how this ultimately resulted in the decline of the regional center and subsequent flourishing of borderland society.

During the question and answer section, questions were raised from a wide range of viewpoints, including the VOC’s response to the opium trade, how and from where the manpower for sugar production was acquired and so on.

Reported by Keiko Ota




 Nov. 18


 The second day’s session opened with the presentation “Sugar for Sweets, Foods and Medicines in Early Modern Persia” by Tomoko Morikawa (Hokkaido University). Basing her research on a wide-ranging examination of various historical materials, Morikawa introduces the characteristic traits of the production, refinement and uses of sugar in early modern Persia, including how sugar, which had originally been used as medicine, came to be used in sweets and how the Qannād, as the people involved in the refinement and sale of sugar were known, formed guilds.

During the question and answer section, questions were raised about the political and economic background behind the sugar trade, including Persia’s relations with England and Russia during that period and the reasons behind Russia’s strong economic influence over Persia.




The next presentation, “Sugar Supply and Importation by the Dutch East India Company to Japan during the 18th Century” by Keisuke Yao (The University of Kitakyushu), was an account of the supply and importation of sugar to Japan by the Dutch East India Company. Yao explains that, during the 18th century, with the development of Japan’s commerce-based economy and the increasing distribution of sugar in domestic markets, an illegal trade in sugar, operating outside of officially sanctioned import channels, also arose as the consumption of sugar spread among members of the lower social classes.

During the question and answer section, one of the questions raised concerned whether there were indications of societal changes arising as a result of the increased consumption of sugar by members of the lower classes.




 Having listened to the first two days’ presentations, Andrew Cock (The University of Tokyo), one of the commentators, opined 1) that the aim was not only to elucidate the distinguishing features among each of the various regions and highlight their differences, but also to create the narratives of a systematic world history that included, for example, the process through which different types of sugar or methods of sugar consumption gradually became homogenized and turned into sources of profit, and 2) that there was a need for historical narratives that also focused on local residents or members of the lower classes in the regions where sugar was produced.





Leonard Blusse (Leiden University), the second commentator, mentioned the need to re-examine the works of Philip D. Curtin, such as “Cross-Cultural Trade in World History,” while also re-emphasizing the role of the Dutch East India Company in defining patterns of sugar consumption throughout each region.






In the general discussion that followed the presentations, in addition to questions on whether there were differences between trade in Asia and “Europe” and, if there were, what those differences were, as well as comprehensive debate on topics such as including the issue of “slavery” when examining the labor supply, considering disease epidemics and the natural environment, viewing other sweeteners besides sugar and so on.


 The second day’s session, entitled “Abolition of Slavery as a Global Experience,” began in the afternoon.



 Explaining the aims of the workshop, Hideaki Suzuki (JSPS) remarked on the importance of understanding the abolition of slavery in the late 19th century as a global phenomenon while also examining both the similarities and the diversity of experiences seen between each individual region. Suzuki also expressed his high expectations for the workshop and its presentations, which were the product of comprehensive and varied empirical research covering a wide range of societies and societal perspectives.  







12-11-18(6).JPGIn the first presentation, “What is remembered and what is forgotten in the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in Britain,” Kumie Inose (Konan University) introduces the current state of affairs in Britain, which recently marked the 200th anniversary of the passage of the Act of Parliament that abolished the slave trade throughout the British Empire, while further examining the reasons behind rise of the abolition movement in the late 18th century and why the debate over slavery at the time focused on the moral and humanitarian aspects of the issue, as well as how the process of abolition is now being retold in the 21st century.

Among the opinions expressed by the audience during the question and answer section, there were voices of concern over the practice of appropriating history for political ends, as was the case with those in Britain who, on the occasion of the Bicentenary, opted to focus exclusively on African slaves in the Indian Ocean region, who had, in fact, represented only a small minority of the slaves in the British Empire prior to abolition.



 In the second presentation, “French Emancipation in Comparative Context,” Sue Peabody (Washington State University Vancouver) reports on “Emancipation” in France.

Peabody discusses attempts in recent years to understand French emancipation beyond the context of French history through examination of the twice-occurring abolition of slavery (in 1794 and again in 1848), the abolition of the slave trade between 1814 and 1830 and the emancipation of slaves in other countries in the Atlantic Ocean region.

During the question and answer section, in response to the question of whether the microhistory that Peabody was attempting would lead to the deconstruction of existing historical frameworks, Peabody replied that the relativization of historical understanding may be possible, depending on individual testimonies.



 In the next presentation, “The path leading to abolition in the Dutch East Indies,” Isabel Van Daalen (Nagasaki University) examines slavery in the Dutch East Indies, an area that has often been overlooked in historical narratives of slavery.

Van Daalen argues that the Dutch people living in Batavia had established their own unique society largely free of intervention from their native Holland and that, as a result, the debate over the abolition of slavery unfolded in stages.

The question and answer section included discussions comparing the situation in the Dutch East Indies to that in other regions, focusing on the role of “pirates” in acquiring manpower, the transition from “slaves” to “servants,” the proportion of men and women and so on.



12-11-18(9).JPG The second day’s final presentation,  "The Release Act of Yu-jo as Emancipation of Slave in the middle of 19th century Japan"by Yuriko Yokoyama (Teikyo University), discusses the historical background and the significance of the Yu-jo Kaiho Rei (Ordinance Releasing Prostitutes; 1872) as a case study on the emancipation of slaves in Japan.

Yokoyama explains how, during the transition away from the fixed class system of the past that took place under the new Meiji government, circumstances in Japan, in which yu-jo came to be seen as having free will, coupled with the women’s liberation movement in England and similar movements around the globe, had a major influence on bringing about the Yu-jo Kaiho Rei.

During the question and answer section, some of the questions that were raised included whether there was also a need to consider Edo Period markets and to what degree the yu-jo were considered to have had free will. This discussion brought to a close the second day of the international workshop.

Reported by Yuki Terada 




Nov. 19th


 The first presentation of the third day’s session was “The 1848 Abolitionist Farmān in Iran,” by Behnaz Mirzai (Brock University).

 Mirzai explains the distinctive features of the slavery system in Iran, such as the fact that household slaves for domestic duties made up the majority of slaves in Iran at the time. Mirzai then discusses the royal decree promulgated in 1848 prohibiting the importation of African slaves through ports on the Persian Gulf, examining the process of its enactment and the political dynamics at work in the background behind its promulgation.

In the question and answer section, questions were raised about the degree to which the royal decree had been effective and whether there were indications of differing attitudes towards the system of slavery among the different denominations of Islam.  




 The second presentation was “Abolition and its Aftermath in Madagascar,” by Gwyn Campbell (McGill University).

Campbell first considers the issue from the perspective of world history, pointing out that the state of “servitude” had existed in one form or another since pre-modern society while also stressing the fact that the 19th century was a turning point in this history.

Campbell explores the case of Madagascar, examining the introduction of a new system of slavery in Madagascar and French attempts at abolition before mentioning in conclusion that Madagascar’s slavery system continues to this very day.

During the question and answer section, one of the questions that were raised concerned whether the introduction of nationalism might have been involved in the issue of abolition in Madagascar.


The next presentation was to be given by Martin Klein (York University) on the abolition of slavery in French West Africa. However, as Klein was unable to attend on the day of the workshop, the manuscript of his presentation, " The End of Slavery in French West Africa" was read by another person on his behalf. Klein’s presentation discusses the policies of France, beginning with the abolition of slavery throughout the French Empire in 1848; the actions of the colonial governments, who tried to prevent these policies from spreading to affect other countries in Africa; how these policies changed after conquest; and the details of the system of slavery in French West Africa.



The fourth presentation was “The End of the Coolie Trade in Southern China,” by Ei Murakami (Kyoto University).

Murakami explains the background behind the rise of the coolie trade in Qing Dynasty China during the latter half of the 19th century and the various problems that it caused, before moving on to examine the process behind the later decline and abolition of the coolie trade, focusing especially on the roles of local Chinese officials and British diplomats, who had often been overlooked in conventional research on the coolie trade.

During the question and answer section, one of the questions that were raised concerned whether famines and other hardships faced by the populace at the time may have been a contributing factor behind the rise of the coolie trade.




The final presentation was “Abolitions: local dynamics in global perspectives, 18th to early 20th centuries,” by Alessandro Stanziani (EHESS and CNRS). In order to examine, within an historical context, whether a distinction was made between “free labor” and “forced labor,” Stanziani first investigates discussions of “free labor” in 18th and 19th century Europe and Russia.

Stanziani then offers viewpoints on serfdom in Russia and its abolition before examining the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade and of slavery in European colonies from the perspective of how it relates to socioeconomic changes in Africa and India at the time.

The question and answer section included a comment on the influence of Jeremy Bentham as mentioned in the presentation, pointing out that a distinction should perhaps be made between Bentham’s own ideas and those of his supporters.



 After the presentations, comments were given by two commentators.

Junichi Himeno (Nagasaki University), the first commentator, began by explaining the notion of “a new world history” as propounded by Masashi Haneda (the research group’s representative) before discussing the philosophical background and economic factors behind the abolition of slavery and, lastly, asking questions about each of the individual presentations.








Kohei Wakimura (Osaka City University), the second commentator, gave an overview of the changes that occurred in the global labor market and, in particular, in the labor market in the Indian Ocean region during the 19th century, using case studies of Indian indentured servants who were sent to British sugar colonies while also touching on the contents of the presentations given up to that point.

In closing, Wakimura also suggested issues that merited consideration in future research, including the need to examine the various forms of involuntary labor that had originally existed in the Indian Ocean region since prior to colonization.




In the general discussion that followed the presentations, topics that were raised for discussion included what common themes should be taken into consideration for future workshops on “slavery” and whether the definition of “slavery” should be clarified or whether it would be better to avoid focusing on definitions.

Reported by: Shinsuke Satsuma




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