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Unravelled Dreams: Silk and the Atlantic World, c.1500-1840

Marsh, Ben (2020) Unravelled Dreams: Silk and the Atlantic World, c.1500-1840. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 700 pp. (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:51942)

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Unravelled Dreams addresses the history of the pursuit of sericulture (silk production) in the Atlantic world, attempted by Spanish, French, British, and American empires and populations between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. It shows that in spite of repeated failures, silkworms were at the cutting edge of Atlantic imperialism. By taking the commercial failure of silk seriously, historicising it, and examining the numerous experiments (large and small) across New Spain, New France, many small corners of northern Europe, and especially British North America and the early United States, we can locate new insights into the determinative matrix of aspiration, labour, environment, and economy in these societies. Each devised its own dreams and plans of cultivation, framed by the compound particularities of cultures and landscapes. Writ large, these dreams would unravel one by one: the attempts to introduce silkworms to new regions around the Atlantic world – powered by Europeans’ consuming appetite for their fibre – ultimately constituted a step too far, marking out the limits of Europeans’ seemingly unbounded power. That they were bewildered by this failure, and for over three hundred years sought to counter environmental and demographic odds stacked against them, turning from one site to another, and mobilising every theory and workforce that they could muster, was a profoundly energising force. It opened up creative models of colonialism, exchange, domestic production and regional interconnection – some of which would disappear altogether, some fall into myths that would be recycled, and others which would become spurs to more commercially successful projects as people, policies, and ideas were recycled from silk to other more competitive and achievable products.

Item Type: Book
Projects: Silk cultivation in the Atlantic world, c.1500-1830: a history of imperial attempts, scientific & technological exchange, and political economy
Subjects: E History America
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Ben Marsh
Date Deposited: 16 Nov 2015 11:10 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:30 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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