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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

A$44.00 | US$35.00 | 2014 | Paperback | 978-1-922064-98-1 | 256 pp 

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


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 drew decisively away in matters of technology and sugar science from other Asian centres of production which had once equalled or, more often, surpassed it in terms of both output and know-how. With Cuba, Java’s industry came to occupy a position at the apex of the trade of this 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. Java ended the century as not only by far the largest of Asia’s producer-exporters of sugar but also the sole example of sustained, 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.

'Knight’s study is one of exceptional insight because he uses several perspectives to unravel the (invisible) processes that underlie Java’s sugar project. But there is another dimension: his stories trigger your imagination. Knight takes some of the leading persons who appeared in my own dissertation and makes them more complete by adding genealogical research data and deeper historical background. He takes the reader along into the 19th-century world of the Netherlands East Indies and of the imperial families in the Indies community. It is a world of its own. History is story-telling, Knight said, and I must say that he has succeeded admirably in telling the story of Java’s industrial project in this book.'

Margaret Leidelmeijer, independent historical researcher and consultant, World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 48, September 2017.

Read the full review here.

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