Talk: “Political Economy and Atlantic Ecology: Why Silk Failed in Early America”
  • Theatre 2, Roland Levinsky Building, University of Plymouth

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This talk considers why one of the main economic ambitions repeatedly embraced by English colonisers from their earlier forays into the Atlantic world, never lived up to their aspirations. The production of silk in North America was linked to all sorts of objectives – including commercial, environmental, and cultural ones. Yet raising silkworms proved obstinately difficult for colonial populations in North America. By tracking some of the many efforts to introduce mulberry trees and silkworms to the American interior, and comparing some of the extravagant and well-supported experiments from Florida to Vermont, we find a distinctive window into how imperial projectors viewed the landscapes they colonised, and how animals and textiles were built into preconceptions about empire and status.

Dr Ben Marsh is Senior Lecturer in American History at the University of Kent, where he teaches in the School of History and the Centre for American Studies. His research interests are in the social and economic history of the Atlantic world c.1500-1820 and the settlement of early America, including gender and race history, the US South and slave societies, demography, the American Revolution, and, latterly, textile history.

His first book, Georgia's Frontier Women, explained how women's lives and experiences were central to the history and evolution of the colony of Georgia between the 1730s and 1790s. He is currently working on a project to understand attempts to cultivate silk in the Atlantic world between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, which explores the intersections between political economy, textile and commodity history, migration, and colonialism. He is also leading on an educational initiative to bring new resources to the study of the Age of Revolution, c.1775-1848.

Date: Thursday 12 December
Time: 19:00 - 21:00
Venue: Theatre 2, Roland Levinsky Building
Free admission, booking advised

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Today's events

Mayflower Lecture Series

Encounters and Ecologies: the Words, Worlds and Legacies of Mayflower, 1620-2020

2020 marks the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower sailing from Plymouth in September 1620. From the very early narratives of encounter in North America, rich and new natural environments became a source of wonder, anxiety and profit; to indigenous people of North America, the natural environment was part of a very different world view.  

The texts and materials through which we understand these environments in moments of change, as well as the legacies and impacts on the communities involved, are at the heart of this series of talks. 

This series of four lectures seeks to establish a four-nations approach to the anniversary, as we discover, investigate and interrogate the legacies of this heritage from a Dutch, English, Native American and US perspective. Through each of these events, invited speakers will make accessible their recent research into different aspects of the Atlantic world as they unravel the interactions of communities and ideas within rapidly changing environments.

Following a successful annual Mayflower Lecture series over several years, including talks on food, myths, diplomacy and museum collections, in 2019-2020 we will offer four new lectures from invited speakers on a range of topics.

Discover more about the University's contribution to the Mayflower 400 commemorations.

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