Sven Beckert on The Empire of Cotton: A Global History

Sep 10, 2015

The cotton industry’s claim that “Cotton is the fabric of our lives” proves true. Sven Beckert’s award-winning work The Empire of Cotton: A Global History explains why. 

Credit Sven Beckert


Sven Beckert is the Laird Bell Professor of History at Harvard, where he researches and teaches the history of the United States in the nineteenth century, with a particular emphasis on the history of capitalism, including its economic, social, political and transnational dimensions. His latest book, The Empire of Cotton is the winner of the Bancroft prize, the leading prize for works of American history, as well as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

The heart of the book is about how the history of cotton illuminates the history of capitalism and by extension the modern world. Beckert writes:  

European trade in cotton textiles tied together Asia, the Americas, Africa, and Europe in a complex commercial web. Never before in the four millennia of the history of cotton had such a globe-spanning system been invented. Never before had the products of Indian weavers paid for slaves in Africa to work on the plantations in the Americas to produce agricultural commodities for European consumers.

 Beckert will be giving a free and open public lecture at Rhodes College on September 17th, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. followed by a book signing of The Empire of Cotton. For more information on the event, you can visit the Communities in Conversation Facebook page.    For more information on Professor Beckert, you can visit his Harvard webpage