How Cotton Remade the World

As a historian, one of my favourite aspects of study is to see the ripples that one stone cast in the global pond can have.  This article is an excellent little summary of how the American Civil War – fought entirely in the US and by American participants – became a force for change in Britain, India, Egypt and elsewhere.

Yet given all that attention, it is surprising that we have spent considerably less effort on understanding the war’s global implications, especially given how far-reaching they were: The war can easily be seen as one of the great watersheds of 19th-century global history. American cotton, the central raw material for all European economies (and also those of the northern states of the Union), suddenly disappeared from global markets. By the end of the war, even more consequentially, the world’s most important cotton cultivators, the enslaved workers of the American South, had attained their freedom, undermining one of the pillars on which the global economy had rested: slavery. The war thus amounted to a full-fledged crisis of global capitalism—and its resolution pointed to a fundamental reorganization of the world economy.

How Cotton Remade the World – Sven Beckert – POLITICO Magazine.

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