Political Economy and Atlantic Ecology: Why Silk Failed in Early America

As part of the Mayflower 400 Lecture Series, the University of Plymouth is hosting this special talk by Dr Ben Marsh, from the University of Kent.

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.

About Dr Ben Marsh

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 16th and 19th 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.

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