Cover: Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina, from Harvard University PressCover: Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina in PAPERBACK

Plantation Enterprise in Colonial South Carolina

Product Details


$31.00 • £26.95 • €28.95

ISBN 9780674060227

Publication Date: 05/15/2011


400 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

6 halftones, 1 line illustration, 5 maps, 15 tables


Add to Cart

Educators: Request an Exam Copy (Learn more)

Media Requests:

Related Subjects

Edelson’s narrative provides a number of new and exciting perspectives on plantation agriculture in the eighteenth century British Atlantic world… Edelson is more successful than any of his predecessors at integrating the urban form into his study of a plantation society… [He] thoroughly dispenses with the image of the plantation patriarch at ease on his remote country seat and, most important, offers an alternative… If history is written by the winners, they have certainly succeeded in commanding the pages of this dynamic and readable saga of English colonization.—Emma Hart, Business History Review

Above all, this readable volume is about agency. As a work of environmental history, the book treats physical environment as an actor shaping human ideas and behaviors. Alternatively, it shows humans employing technology to shape what nature makes possible. As economic history it demonstrates how ideas of value shape, and are shaped by, human interaction with the land. As social history it combines these approaches and plays with the central role of greed in determining how one human treats another in order to turn a profit… [Edelson’s] valuable book stands as a reminder that one history is never enough to tell the whole story.—Brian Casady, International Journal of African Historical Studies

S. Max Edelson deftly traces how some early colonists overcame their prejudice toward marshes and swamps to develop a profitable plantation system. They adapted the Carolina landscape to the Atlantic economy by learning from local Indian communities and imported Africans, and through active experimentation, refining the art of rice production, which they supplemented with indigo and other crops… This well-researched and well-written account creatively cultivates an array of sources, contains numerous valuable graphs and appendices to support its arguments, and provides a convincing story of Carolina plantation development.—Alan Gallay, Journal of American History

Overall Edelson’s book is elegantly written, based on a foundation of prodigious research. To cite just one example, in a brief section that examines the volatile environment in which rice and indigo were cultivated, Edelson draws on three hundred contemporary accounts of fifty-three seasons between 1717 and 1795 that commented on how the weather affected crop yields. This hook serves as an example of the historian’s craft, as it successfully conveys change over time and space and also explicates the contingent nature of these changes. The reader encounters change coming less from historical processes and more from human agents confronting and attempting to control their environment. Though the book’s title suggests its utility to a small group of scholars, Edelson has produced a work of interest to all students of southern history.—Gregory D. Massey, Journal of Southern History

This is a splendid book. While Edelson succinctly summarizes his argument in one of the finest introductions in the literature, readers should not deny themselves the pleasure of his nuanced longer analysis. Historians have written much about South Carolina’s colonial past, but in Plantation Enterprise, Edelson provides a compelling and well-written new perspective on frequently debated topics by asking commonsense questions about heretofore accepted interpretations.—Philip N. Racine, North Carolina Historical Review

Making extensive use of primary sources, Edelson provides a rich, nuanced account of the origins and maturation of the plantation economy in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Countering earlier depictions of the Colonial plantation economy as stunted and planters as isolated from the larger Atlantic economy, the author instead views ‘the plantation itself as a dynamic instrument of colonization and development’ and planters as ‘early modern capitalists’… This is a solid piece of scholarship that not only adds to the understanding of Colonial South Carolina, but in its comprehensive character has something to offer all students of Colonial America and the Atlantic World.—J.J. Rogers, Choice

With a heady combination of deep research, keen insight, and a revisionist’s eye for cant, S. Max Edelson brilliantly rethinks the development of South Carolina’s central institution. In place of the Big House and static relations of mastership, Edelson offers an enterprise of enormous dynamism, whose ever-changing needs and demands made and remade South Carolina society and its peoples.—Ira Berlin, author of Generations of Captivity

In this broadly gauged and highly nuanced work, Edelson deftly and boldly combines agricultural history, environmental history, and cultural history. In so doing, he provides the most compelling account of the origins of the South Carolina rice industry I have ever read. A first-rate book in every way.—Peter A. Coclanis, University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill

This is a superb piece of scholarship. It demonstrates a mastery of the literature, a creative use of evidence and an imaginative interpretation which often forced me to look at familiar issues in new ways. The impact of this book will extend well beyond colonial South Carolina.—Russell R. Menard, University of Minnesota

By far the most detailed and authoritative account of plantation agriculture’s dynamic development in colonial South Carolina, this study is an excellent blend of economic and environmental history.—Philip D. Morgan, Johns Hopkins University

A fresh and imaginative combination of environmental history and agricultural history, embedding the distinctive culture and landscape of Carolina plantations in the intellectual and economic circulations of the British Atlantic. Edelson’s careful and readable analysis should be of interest to historians on both sides of the ocean.—Harriet Ritvo, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology

S. Max Edelson recovers the dynamism of a world obsessed with transformation of the environment, improvement of agricultural technology, and amplification of power in the transatlantic marketplace. Scrupulously documented and cogently argued, it charts as no other volume has the transformation of a semi-tropical swamp into the most profitable colony in mainland British America.—Dr. David S. Shields, University of South Carolina

Awards & Accolades

  • 2006 George C. Rogers, Jr., Award, South Carolina Historical Society

Share This

Holiday Sale / 30% off sitewide with code HOL22
Happiness in Action: A Philosopher’s Guide to the Good Life, by Adam Adatto Sandel, from Harvard University Press

Recent News

Black lives matter. Black voices matter. A statement from HUP »

From Our Blog

Composite photograph showing (top) entrance to the Prudential Center in Boston and (bottom) an internal construction partition/wall printed with the words 'Opening Day 2023' and other decorative text

A New Chapter for Harvard Book Store

Starting in the summer of 2023, for the first time in almost thirty years, Harvard Book Store will have two locations: the flagship store in Harvard Square, and a large new store in the Prudential Center in Boston. For University Press Week we wanted to show some bookseller love, so we reached out to Rachel Cass, General Manager of the Harvard Book Store, to see what’s planned for their exciting new location