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Making Tobacco Bright

Creating an American Commodity, 1617–1937

In her sweeping history of the American tobacco industry, Barbara Hahn traces the emergence of the tobacco plant’s many varietal types, arguing that they are products not of nature but of economic relations and continued and intense market regulation.

Hahn focuses her study on the most popular of these varieties, Bright Flue-Cured Tobacco. First grown in the inland Piedmont along the Virginia–North Carolina border, Bright Tobacco now grows all over the world, primarily because of its unique—and easily replicated—cultivation and curing methods. Hahn traces the evolution of technologies in a variety of regulatory and cultural environments to reconstruct how Bright Tobacco became, and remains to this day, a leading commodity in the global tobacco industry.

This study asks not what effect tobacco had on the world market, but how that market shaped tobacco into types that served specific purposes and became distinguishable from one another more by technologies of production than genetics. In so doing, it explores the intersection of crossbreeding, tobacco-raising technology, changing popular demand, attempts at regulation, and sheer marketing ingenuity during the heyday of the American tobacco industry.

Combining economic theory with the history of technology, Making Tobacco Bright revises several narratives in American history, from colonial staple-crop agriculture to the origins of the tobacco industry to the rise of identity politics in the twentieth century.

About the Author

Barbara Hahn is an assistant professor of history at Texas Tech University.

Reviews

A discerning analysis of not only how a commodity—tobacco—was shaped and defined by technology, but also how technology can be influenced by a commodity... This interesting, thorough history will appeal to readers and researchers alike. Highly recommended.

- Choice

Thoroughly researched, engaging, and enjoyable...An excellent first book.

- James C. Giesen - Environmental History

Strongly argued and deeply researched.

- Evan P. Bennett - Agricultural History

Hahn has produced an important book, thoroughly researched and persuasively argued, that deserves a wide audience among American historians.

- Journal of American History

Hahn has written an ambitious book that examines how Americans created a commodity whose roots were densely—perhaps inextricably—tangled with those of the growing nation. Her work deserves a broad readership among students of southern agriculture, economic history, and the history of science and technology.

- Max Grivno - Journal of Southern History

... Making Tobacco Bright is an impressive book, one that rewrites conventional understandings of tobacco as a crop, a commodity, and a symbol. From Jamestown to contemporary southern fields, Hahn tells an old story in an entirely fresh way.

- Drew A. Swanson - Technology and Culture
Johns Hopkins University Press
Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology
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