Inventing the Cotton Gin: Machine and Myth in Antebellum America - Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology (Paperback)
  • Inventing the Cotton Gin: Machine and Myth in Antebellum America - Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology (Paperback)
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Inventing the Cotton Gin: Machine and Myth in Antebellum America - Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology (Paperback)

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Paperback 248 Pages / Published: 12/08/2005
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"The cotton gin animates the American imagination in unique ways. It evokes no images of antique machinery or fluffy fiber but rather scenes of victimized slaves and battlefield dead. It provokes the suspicion that had Eli Whitney never invented the gin, United States history would have been somehow different. Yet cotton gins existed for centuries before Whitney invented his gin in 1794. Nineteenth-century scholars overlooked them as well as gins made by southern-and northern-mechanics, in order to create a history meant to chasten some southerners and demean others. Using the gin as evidence, they read failure back from the Civil War into the choices that southerners made from the American Revolution, tracing the steps that led them to Appomattox." In Inventing the Cotton Gin, Lakwete explores the history of the cotton gin as an aspect of global history and an artifact of southern industrial development. She examines gin invention and innovation in Asia and Africa from the earliest evidence to the seventeenth century, when British colonizers introduced an Asian hand-cranked roller gin to the Americas. Lakwete shows how indentured British, and later enslaved Africans, built and used foot-powered models to process the cotton they grew for export. After Eli Whitney patented his wire-toothed gin, southern mechanics transformed it into the saw gin, offering stiff competition to northern manufacturers. Far from being a record of southern failure, Lakwete concludes, the cotton gin-correctly understood-supplies evidence that the slave labor-based antebellum South innovated, industrialized, and modernized.

Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
ISBN: 9780801882722
Number of pages: 248
Weight: 340 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 17 mm


MEDIA REVIEWS
With careful use of vivid illustrations and keen analytic skills, Lakwete captures the relationship between technology and human initiative. -- Lester P. Lee, Jr. * Times Literary Supplement *
Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, which created the Old South and then destroyed it... Lakwete targets this myth in Inventing the Cotton Gin and largely demolishes it. -- John Bezis-Selfa * Alabama Review *
This study provides students a clear example of how technological choices are not the storybook cases of perfected innovations replacing hopelessly outclassed traditional methods. -- William H. Phillips * EH.Net *
For those seeking to understand how the interplay of market factors, cultural norms, and personal choices shape-and are shaped by-technology, Inventing the Cotton Gin is an excellent read. -- Don Butts * History: Reviews of New Books *
Lakwete has written the first scholarly study of the cotton gin in antebellum America... Instead of viewing Eli Whitney's work as a historical watershed, she finds continuity. * Choice *
Lakwete joins the pantheon of technological historians by demolishing a standard, widely accepted myth with the careful and persuasive analysis of a vast array of evidence... The book is a triumph. -- Barbara Hahn * H-South, H-Net Reviews *
Few will dispute that this book will change how historians think about the rise of King Cotton and the nature of technological change. -- John Majewski * Business History Review *
[Lakwete] captures the nuances that distinguish technological success from failure. -- John S. Nader * Enterprise and Society *
Another myth relating to the South is relegated, shall we say-with apologies to Marx-to the (cotton) dustbin of history... A major work of scholarship. -- Peter A. Coclanis * Technology and Culture *
Inventing the Cotton Gin is an education in economic and business history as much as a needed revisionist version of the cotton gin myth. -- Kim Long * Bloomsbury Review *
Bold and path-breaking... Most forcefully, Lakwete impugns the notion that a machine bears the responsibility for the Civil War and its aftermath. -- Mark Finlay * South Carolina Historical Magazine *
The best and most sophisticated treatment of the gin in the larger context of the antebellum cotton South we are likely to see... The dramatic, great-white man narrative of Eli Whitney yields to a richer, more complex story. -- David L. Carlton * Georgia Historical Quarterly *
She has done an excellent job of weaving together an amazingly complex series of events in a straightforward and interesting manner. -- Twyla Dell * Material Culture *
An important addition to the growing list of works on southern industrialization... As with other good history books, it challenges what we think we knew, and sends us searching for more clues. -- Shepherd W. McKinley * H-Net Reviews *

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