ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Dark History of Cotton

Empire of Cotton: A New History of Global Capitalism by Sven Beckert, Penguin Random House UK, 2014; pp 615, £30.

Vasco da Gama’s epochal voyage to India at the end of the 15th century was also a turning point in the history of cotton. The world’s most important manufacturing industry throughout the second millennium, cotton textiles, were at the heart of trade in the Indian Ocean at least from the 12th century onwards. India occupied a place of primacy in this landscape, with large quantities of handcrafted Indian textiles (sought-after for their superior quality) being sold in a vast region spanning from East and North Africa to West and South-East Asia. After da Gama sailed from Europe to India around the Cape of Good Hope in 1497–98, Indian cotton(s) began to traverse the globe, with their trade expanding beyond the Indian Ocean and towards the Atlantic world encompassing Europe and the Americas.

At the time and for the almost 250 years which followed, it would have been impossible to imagine that England, at that time a minor footnote in the world of cotton, would have ousted India from its ruling position for centuries and taken the centre stage in the manufacturing and trade of cotton textiles. Following the Industrial Revolution from the 1780s onwards, British cotton goods rapidly replaced Indian ones in world markets. Simultaneously, India was recast into the largest market for British-manufactured yarn and cloth, and the worldwide cotton industry was turned on its head.

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Updated On : 24th May, 2017
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