The Plantation

The Plantation

The Plantation

The Plantation


The first complete publication of an overlooked gem in American intellectual history A rare classic in American social science, Edgar Thompson's 1932 University of Chicago dissertation, "The Plantation," broke new analytic ground in the study of the southern plantation system. Thompson refuted long-espoused climatic theories of the origins of plantation societies and offered instead a richly nuanced understanding of the links between plantation culture, the global history of capitalism, and the political and economic contexts of hierarchical social classification. This first complete publication of Thompson's study makes available to modern readers one of the earliest attempts to reinterpret the history of the American South as an integral part of global processes. In this Southern Classics edition, editors Sidney W. Minz and George Baca provide a thorough introduction explicating Thompson's guiding principles and grounding his germinal work in its historical context. Thompson viewed the plantation as a political institution in which the quasi-industrial production of agricultural staples abroad through race-making labor systems solidified and advanced European state power. His interpretation marks a turning point in the scientific study of an ancient agricultural institution, in which the plantation is seen as a pioneering instrument for the expansion of the global economy. Further, his awareness of the far-reaching history of economic globalization and of the conception of race as socially constructed predicts viewpoints that have since become standard. As such, this overlooked gem in American intellectual history is still deeply relevant for ongoing research and debate in social, economic, and political history.


Edgar T. Thompson, a southerner by birth and a sociologist by training, recast childhood experiences on his father’s plantation to fuel an intellectual journey that placed the plantation at the analytical center of his sociological investigations. in this, the publication of Thompson’s doctoral thesis in its entirety, we come to understand plantation agriculture, southern exceptionalism, and black/ white race relations as parts of the larger enterprises of European state building and global capitalism. Students of the new global South will benefit from this early attempt to link locality to global networks as they are reminded that the South’s ties to a global political economy predated the Civil War.

Southern Classics returns to general circulation books of importance dealing with the history and culture of the American South. Sponsored by the Institute for Southern Studies, the series is advised by a board of distinguished scholars who suggest titles and editors of individual volumes to the series editors and help establish priorities in publication.

Chronological age alone does not determine a title’s designation as a Southern Classic. the criteria also include significance in contributing to a broad understanding of the region, timeliness in relation to events and moments of peculiar interest to the American South, usefulness in the classroom, and suitability for inclusion in personal and institutional collections on the region.

Mark M. smith peggy G. hargis Series Editors . . .

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