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Sugar, Steam and Steel

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Sugar, Steam and Steel:

The Industrial Project in Colonial Java,

by G. Roger Knight

$44.00 | 2014 | Paperback | 978-1-922064-98-1 | 256 pp 

FREE | 2014 | Ebook (PDF) | 
978-1-922064-99-8 | 256 ppbr>


Sugar, Steam and Steel is about cane sugar and the transformation of an Indonesian island into the ‘Oriental Cuba’ during the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Between the 1830s and the 1880s, sweetener manufacture in Dutch-controlled Java — the crown jewel of the erstwhile Netherlands Indies — drew decisively away in matters of technology and sugar science from other Asian centres of production which had once equaled or, more often, surpassed it in terms of both output and know-how. Along with its larger and altogether more famous Caribbean counterpart, Java’s industry came to occupy a position at the apex of the trade in what had become by this date a key global commodity. Along with the beet sugar producers of (post-1870) Imperial Germany, Cuba and Java accounted for a little over one-third of the world’s recorded output of the industrially manufactured kind of sugar usually referred to as ‘centrifugal’.

While Cuba held the position of the world’s largest supplier of cane sugar to international commodity markets, ‘Dutch’ Java emerged from almost nowhere to take second place. The island had begun the nineteenth century as one of a number of centres — in fact, a rather minor one — of pre-industrial sugar production located in tropical and sub-tropical Asia from the Indian sub-continent through to the southernmost islands of Japan. It ended the century not only as by far the largest of Asia’s producer-exporters of sugar but also — critically — as the sole example of the sustained and successful large-scale industrialisation of sugar manufacture anywhere in ‘the East’. Sugar, Steam and Steel sets out to explain how and why this happened — and what its implications were for the long-term trajectory of the Java sugar industry in the international sugar economy.


'Having published Big Sugar in 2013, G. Roger Knight has served up another sweet dish. A renowned scholar and author on the history of Indonesian sugar, he has embarked on an ambitious project to bring to life more than two centuries of developments in Indonesian sugar production and manufacturing.'

Alexander Claver, Dutch Ministry of Defence, Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, December 2015

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