Plants Plantations Labor Trade

An Exhibit of Holdings of the UW-Madison Libraries and Wisconsin Historical Society Library & Archives

January 13 – May 22, 2020 (extended through fall semester 2020)

square portion of exhibit poster for Plants Plantations Labor Trade

Installed in conjunction with the Sawyer Seminar “Interrogating the Plantationocene,” Center for the Humanities, UW-Madison, the exhibit highlighted books, manuscripts, archives, music, and pictorial materials exploring the long history and global reach of plantations, including crops and land use, racialized and forced labor, means of production and markets.

Topics addressed included

  • crops and products such as sugar, cotton, cacao, coffee, indigo, and rubber
  • companies and industrial operations relying on plantations, including the Wisconsin Rubber Company, Rio Tamasopo Sugar Company, Mexican Plantation Company, and McCormick Works Twine Mill
  • Saint-Domingue and the Haitian Revolution
  • Sir Hans Sloane and the natural history of Jamaica
  • Uncle Tom’s Cabin: transmission, depiction, reaction
  • profound environmental degradation, cotton, and the Aral Sea
  • echoes of plantations in music and the performance history of the Jubilee Singers
  • labor organizing by the United Farm Workers
  • manuscript records of American and Caribbean plantations, documenting slave-holding and use of indentured laborers.

Items on display ranged from business records to product promotions and produce boycotts, sheet music and recordings to photographs and engravings, novels to political tracts and protest posters, travel narratives to treatises on natural history, fabric and dye samples to artists’ books. They came from the holdings of the UW-Madison Kohler Art Library, Memorial Library, Mills Music Library, and Department of Special Collections, and the Archives & Library of the Wisconsin Historical Society. A checklist is available. Readers may find some materials disturbing.

The exhibit was co-curated by Cynthia Bachhuber, Susan Barribeau, Tom Caw, Laura Martin, Robin Rider, Lisa Saywell, and Emilie Songolo. Thanks also to Carly Sentieri for designing the exhibit poster and enhancements to the exhibit space.