Shifting Markets: The Sugar Industry in the U.S. South and Hawai‘i in the Mid-Late 19th Century

Mallory Huard, Pennsylvania State University

This paper argues that the American Civil War disrupted the markets of sugar production which led to an increase in U.S. interests in Hawai‘i and had a lasting impact on relations between the two countries. Before the war, Louisiana was by far the greatest domestic producer of sugar in the United States. After the state seceded, the Union needed a new source for sugar production and began to increase importation from Hawai‘i, which had been in the process of shifting its economy towards plantation-based sugar production. This paper will demonstrate that this shift in industry had a significant impact in terms of labor, environment, and economics in both places. These shifting dynamics cannot be separated from broader American imperial ambitions in the nineteenth century. The protection of American economic interests during the Civil War was at the heart of the Union Navy’s priorities in the Pacific Ocean, but it was also about projecting an image of strength for the United States. Most historians suggest that the war marked a pause in American imperialism; however, the U.S. needed to demonstrate their naval competency in order to continue trading and expanding into the Pacific and the security of commercial interests was essential to the ongoing project of empire building. While sugar itself did not lead to the U.S. annexation of Hawai‘i in 1898, it certainly helped draw the two nations closer together in the second half of the nineteenth century. By using both qualitative descriptions of Hawai‘i’s economic value as well as qualitative data such as shipping records and agricultural reports, this paper will contribute to conversations about data in history in accordance with the 2019 SSHA Conference theme.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 137. Commodity data is messy: Issues in commodity production and quantification