Merleaux on Sidney Mintz and Sweetness and Power| @ProcessHistory

April Merleaux on Sidney Mintz:

“I was greatly saddened to hear of Sidney Mintz’s passing in December. By all accounts he was a generous mentor and friend, and he will be greatly missed. The author of dozens of works, Mintz has inspired a generation of scholars working on Caribbean society, plantation agriculture, food history, commodities, consumer culture, and capitalism. An anthropologist by training, he was a truly interdisciplinary thinker and writer and his influence is widely evident among historians. Those outside of Latin American and Caribbean history are most likely to know Mintz through his popular Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (1985), which is an exemplar of interdisciplinary, transregional history and creative synthesis. For all its flaws, the work is still regularly taught in undergraduate and graduate courses, and it graces the shelves of academics and non-academics alike. Having myself just published a book on the politics of sugar production and consumption in the United States and its empire, I had long imagined that I would someday sit down and have a nice chat with him. I am sorry that I missed the chance….”

 

“I have also finally realized that Mintz—and by extension, Sweetness and Power—was himself a product of the history I describe in Sugar and Civilization, which covers the period between the Spanish American War and the end of the New Deal. Mintz was born in 1922. He was a child in the 1920s, a period when, I argue, U.S. American children were central to a rhetoric of race and consumption that linked empire with sweetness in transformative ways. He came of age during the late New Deal and World War, doing his early anthropological field work in Puerto Rico at the tail end of wartime demobilization on the island in 1948. The patterns of production and consumption he witnessed were a direct outcome of five decades of U.S. imperial political economy. In Mintz’s view, the hallmark of capitalist transformation was for workers to be severed from the production of their own food. The fact that Puerto Rican workers were consumers of goods produced elsewhere—their “import dependence”—was a concern transmitted directly from colonial administrators in the 1930s and 1940s. But, as I show, import dependence was not nearly as straightforward as Mintz or his New Deal predecessors would have us believe. The times when Puerto Ricans ate more of what they produced locally were almost always hard times, brought on by colonial policy decisions or the vagaries of the international sugar market. Puerto Ricans bought imported food when business was booming. Mintz’s schematic explanation of capitalist dynamics had its roots in New Deal critiques of consumer politics, politics which took a crumbling sugar empire and rebuilt a hierarchical sugar market favoring the mainland….”

Read it all: Sidney Mintz’s Long, Sweet Legacy – Process

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