restricted access Cotton and the Global Origins of Capitalism

Commodity-focused histories are one powerful way to move toward a history beyond the nation-state, partly because they give empirical specificity to far-flung connections, partly because they allow us to bring the lessons of social history into global history, partly because they provide audiences for global history, and partly because, if done right, they can help us better understand some of the largest questions of world history. As others before me have appreciated, a commodity-focused history is a perspective that entails lots of analytical possibilities. While one of the more problematic effects of some world history has been its willingness to ignore the lessons of the social history revolution, focusing on a commodity allows—in fact, requires—us to bring a good dose of social history back into global history. The history of cotton can illuminate some of these general points.