Friday, May 24, 2019

Booknotes: Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South

New Arrival:
Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South: A Reevaluation by Michael S. Frawley (LSU Press, 2019).

No one will deny that the industrial capacity of the antebellum American South lagged far behind the North's, but the persistence of myths regarding southern unwillingness to invest in industrial development and the presumed incompatibility of slave labor with large-scale manufacturing deserve further reexamination. Another associated topic of useful debate revolves around gaining an accurate assessment of the degree to which the South's slave-based agricultural export economy smothered the growth of industry. It looks like all of these questions are addressed in Michael Frawley's Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South.

Frawley's investigation "engages a wide variety of sources―including United States census data, which many historians have underutilized when gauging economic growth in the prewar South―to show how industrial development in the region has been systematically minimized by scholars. In doing so, Frawley reconsiders factors related to industrial production in the prewar South, such as the availability of natural resources, transportation, markets, labor, and capital. He contends that the Gulf South was far more industrialized and modern than suggested by census records, economic historians like Fred Bateman and Thomas Weiss, and contemporary travel writers such as Frederick Law Olmsted."

More from the description: "Frawley situates the prewar South firmly in a varied and widespread industrial context, contesting the assumption that slavery inhibited industry in the region and that this lack of economic diversity ultimately prevented the Confederacy from waging a successful war. Though southern manufacturing firms could not match the output of northern states, Industrial Development and Manufacturing in the Antebellum Gulf South proves that such entities had established themselves as vital forces in the southern economy on the eve of the Civil War." Sounds fascinating. With its text supported by a great abundance of maps and tables, the format looks highly accessible, and I always like to see someone able to get their point across in 130 pages.

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