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Machines, modernity, and sugar: the Greater Caribbean in a global context, 1812–50*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2014

José Guadalupe Ortega*
Department of History, Whittier College, Whittier, CA 90601, USA E-mail:


This article examines the diffusion of evaporation technology along multi-centred and overlapping scientific, industrial, and commercial knowledge networks. It follows the circulation of vacuum pan (steam evaporator) technology in the Greater Caribbean, the North Atlantic, and the East Indies in order to understand the dual processes of invention and globalization. The article demonstrates that the tropical sugar plantation served as an experimental laboratory and, as such, vital inventions and engineering developments that took place in this space were subsequently incorporated into manufacturing designs in the North Atlantic, helping to modernize European industries in the process. As transient intermediaries, scientists, industrialists, and engineers modified and adapted vacuum pan technologies to meet the local demands of planters in the Greater Caribbean, thereby integrating this area into an increasingly globalized economy.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

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A preliminary version of this article was presented at the conference of the Latin American Studies Association in San Francisco, on 24 May 2012. The author thanks Adrián López Denis and Daniel B. Rood for our dynamic conversations on sugar and technology, as well as Robert Marks for reading an earlier version of the article. He is grateful to the JGH readers and editors for their insightful and thoughtful suggestions.


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