The history of material goods, and the role that they have played in past societies, has become an established field of study in recent decades. The subject matter lends itself to interdisciplinary research, because an understanding of the goods themselves often requires specialized knowledge—the science of dyes, the agricultural conditions that promote certain flora, the technicalities of producing paper or copper engravings, etc. In addition, questions about production, distribution, and usage require tools of analysis drawn from economics, anthropology, and sociology. A particularly rich vein of work in this area has focused on foodstuffs, which have become a fast-growing area of interest to historians. Strum’s massive volume makes it abundantly clear how broadly the topic can draw on disciplinary interactions.

The Sugar Trade is the handiwork of more than forty scholars, designers, and illustrators, not to mention the dozen members of the committees under whose auspices it was produced. With...

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