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Re: cotton in the world system, raw materal specific world
by Mark Douglas Whitaker
07 March 2002 00:16 UTC
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         I've got a comparative paper between cotton, wool, and worsted for 
this period in British industrialization. Summary at:


full paper:

It's under review as shorted series of articles for the American 
Sociological Journal.

The issue as I saw it was that the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 set 
up the first flux year of cotton in bulk in 1794 out of the United States. 
It's an interesting story: the machinery of Whitney was 'liberated' as 
well. It was placed in a jail for safekeeping from people stealing it, 
i.e., from cotton owning aristocrats, though they helped to break it out of 
Whitney's attempt at protecting his exclusive ownership of the invention. 
They made their own copies.

I have some statistics on this huge flux of cotton, and change over of 
crops in the Southern United States. It is in the first section on 
comparing various physical and technological amenabilities of textile 
fibers. It's in the last part of the 'vegetable' textiles section on cotton.

The website mentioned above as a whole is devoted to a listserve for the 
'empirical interconnections' between the sociological, biological, and 
physical sciences. In other words, no one on the list is a scientific 
reductionist of any sort. The list has about 60 people. Perhaps you or 
others on this list would be interested in joining?

A summary of the (low traffic) list's purposes are located at:


There's a section in the paper as well about moving to a raw materal 
specific consideration of world systems theory, with differnet raw 
materials physical characteristics, technological amenabilities, and 
geographic amenabilities, setting up globally different world systems of 
consumption. Let me know if you want to read it: 'll cut/paste this section 
to you (it's about "the unsubstitutable sheep and textiles in the world 


Mark Whitaker
University of Wisconsin-Madison

At 03:06 PM 3/6/2002 +0100, you wrote:
>paragraph five of the quoted book says there was a sudden influx of cotton 
>into Europe.....I ask WHY the "sudden influx" etc????fascinating. would 
>appreciate your response.bw
>At 23:15 05/03/02, Louis Proyect wrote:
>>(The ongoing debates about the origins of capitalism have grappled
>>with the importance of New World silver and gold, with Brenner thesis
>>supporters minimizing its importance and scholars like A. Frank on
>>the opposite side. The last excerpt from Jack Weatherford's "Indian
>>Givers" I posted here, titled "New World Silver and the rise of
>>capitalism" weighed in on the world systems side of the debate.
>>Continuing with Weatherford's book, I found some information that I
>>never considered before, namely how New World cotton might have been
>>an even greater contributor to the social forces of production
>>associated with the industrial revolution than either silver or gold.
>>What follows is from chapter 3 of his book, "The American Indian Path
>>to Industrialization".)
>>Around the time the potato arrived in Europe, a cornucopia of other
>>New World crops and products also poured in. The potato freed the
>>mills but gave them nothing new to process. Into this vacuum poured
>>one of the inedible American products-cotton. Some Old World types of
>>cotton had been grown in India and the Near East for centuries, but
>>only very small quantities of it ever reached Europe. This cotton was
>>not only expensive, but weak and difficult to weave because of its
>>short strands. Asiatic cottons, Gossypium herbaceum and G. arboreum,
>>had a strand length of only about half an inch, but American upland
>>cotton, G. hirsutum, usually grew to a full inch or more. Meanwhile,
>>G. barbodense, the tropical American cotton that became best known as
>>Sea Island cotton (from the plantations that grew it on the coast of
>>South Carolina and Georgia), could grow to two and a half inches. In
>>Europe the short strands of the Old World cotton served primarily for
>>padding jerkins under the coats of mail worn in battle. In time the
>>uses of cotton expanded to the making of fustian, which was a coarse
>>material built on a warp of stronger flax and a woof of Old World
>>cotton. Not until American cotton arrived in England, however, did
>>the phrase "cotton cloth" appear in English; the Oxford English
>>Dictionary's earliest date for it is 1552.
>>The long-strand cotton of the American Indians so surpassed in
>>quality the puny cotton of the Old World that the Spaniards mistook
>>American Indian cloth for silk and interpreted its abundance as yet
>>further proof that these new lands lay close to China. For thousands
>>of years before the European conquest of America the Indians had been
>>using this carefully developed cotton to weave some of the finest
>>textiles in the world. Many remnants of these early cloths survive to
>>the present day, their colors and designs intact, after several
>>thousand years in the desert burials of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.
>>Traditionally, Europeans wore wools supplemented by leather. They
>>wove everything, from their underwear to their hats, from wool. Only
>>the very rich could afford luxury fabrics such as silk or linen. But
>>the quantity of wool was determined by the number of sheep, and this
>>was determined by the amount of grazing space. Using only sheep to
>>produce cloth ensures a slow and inefficient system that consumes a
>>large parcel of land to clothe each person and limits the amount of
>>clothing available.
>>As long as Europe depended primarily on wool for clothing, peasants
>>could spin it and weave it with simple home technology. The
>>bottleneck in cloth manufacture was the amount of wool that the land
>>was capable of producing, not the ability of the weavers to make
>>cloth. Since the number of sheep determined the amount of wool for
>>weaving, peasants lacked incentives to develop machines or more
>>efficient ways to make clothing.
>>This situation changed with the massive influx of cotton from
>>America. Suddenly, the peasants and the weavers had more fiber than
>>they could weave. They lacked the labor to process so much fiber.
>>Europe desperately needed more energy than it had in human and animal
>>power, and the most readily available source for creating new energy
>>lay in the waterwheels already in place throughout the continent.
>>Thus were born the first textile factories.
>>Cotton production far surpassed the production of wool and other
>>fibers, but several steps in the manufacture of cloth slowed the
>>process. After the cotton bolls were picked from the plant, the seeds
>>had to be removed to free the cotton. This work proceeded at a slow
>>and laborious pace, requiring more time than the actual picking of
>>the cotton. Thus the slaves picking cotton spent more time picking
>>cotton seed out of the bolls than picking the cotton from the plant.
>>This problem was solved, however, when Eli Whitney (1765-1825) of
>>Westborough, Massachusetts, invented a mechanical gin to do this task
>>in 1793. The invention of this twenty-eight-year-old teacher allowed
>>one worker to separate up to fifty pounds of cotton per day.
>>This one contraption did not produce the whole revolution in
>>production. The change depended on nearly simultaneous developments
>>that increased the rate at which thread could be spun from the cotton
>>and the rate at which the thread could be woven into cloth. Together,
>>the mechanization of ginning, spinning, and weaving the cotton
>>launched the industrial revolution.
>>American cotton output increased from only three thousand bales in
>>1790, just before the invention of the cotton gin and the
>>mechanization of the spinning and weaving process, to 4.5 million
>>bales in 1860, on the eve of the American Civil War. In the decades
>>just before that war, cotton alone accounted for the major part of
>>exports from the United States, and it went primarily to the textile
>>mills of England. This demand for so much cotton greatly increased
>>the demand for appropriate land and thus pushed the southern planters
>>out of the Carolinas and Georgia and all the way across to Texas
>>within a few short years. In the process the United States
>>annihilated or scattered the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Cherokee
>>nations as well as most of the Seminole and some smaller nations.
>>After the invention of the cotton gin, manufactured cotton cloth
>>became an item that even common people could afford. Until that time
>>it had been a luxury fabric for the rich; the common people continued
>>to wear homespun wool. Soon cotton textiles spread so widely and the
>>technology for making them became so refined that the Europeans were
>>selling them around the world in another escalation of the capitalist
>>enterprise. By 1800, cotton accounted for one-fourth of Britain's
>>annual exports. By 1850 this had risen to over half of all her annual
>>exports, and British factories produced cotton cloth in such
>>abundance that the price fell to only a quarter of what it had been
>>in 1800.
>>Louis Proyect, lnp3@panix.com on 03/05/2002
>>Marxism list: http://www.marxmail.org
>PLEASE REPLY to e-mail address below:
>Prof. Immanuel Wallerstein
>Netherlands Institute of Advanced Study
>Meijboomlaan 1
>2242-PR Wassenaar
>Tel: (31-70) 512.27.00
>Fax: (31-70) 511.71.62
>E:   wallerstein@nias.knaw.nl
>(Jan.-March 2002)

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