Oceans of Wine: Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste

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This innovative book examines how, between 1640 and 1815, the Portuguese Madeira wine trade shaped the Atlantic world and American society. David Hancock painstakingly reconstructs the lives of producers, distributors, and consumers, as well as the economic and social structures created by globalizing commerce, to reveal an intricate interplay between individuals and market forces. Wine lovers and Madeira enthusiasts will enjoy Oceans of Wine, as will historians interested in food, colonial trade, and the history of the Atlantic region.

Using voluminous archives pertaining to wine, many of them previously unexamined, Hancock offers a dramatic new perspective on the economic and social development of the Atlantic world by challenging traditional interpretations that have identified states and empires as the driving force behind trade. He demonstrates convincingly just how decentralized the early modern commercial system was, as well as how self-organized, a system that emerged from the actions of market participants working across imperial lines. The networks they formed began as commercial structures and expanded into social and political systems that were conduits not only for wine but also for ideas about reform, revolution, and independence.

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Editorial Reviews

Gourmand World Cookbook

Winner of the 2009 Gourmand World Cookbook Award in the Best Book of European Wine category

— Best Book of European Wine

William & Mary Quarterly

". . . a detailed and richly textured narrative. . . . Oceans of Wine breaks new ground [and] pioneers a new approach to Atlantic history."--William & Mary Quarterly
American Historical Review

"Oceans of Wine celebrates human sociability and ingenuity, not least Hancock's skill in viscerally recreating eighteenth-century elite society."--American Historical Review
Peter C. Mancall

"This is history on a grand scale, built from intensive knowledge of the day-to-day workings of planters, merchants, sailors, and drinkers across the Atlantic basin. David Hancock shows how trade systems actually operated and in the process uses the wine business to illuminate the origins of the modern global economy."—Peter C. Mancall, University of Southern California

Ian K. Steele

"This is an excellent, scholarly, and timely book."—Ian K. Steele, University of Western Ontario

Richard S. Dunn

"David Hancock’s celebration of the production, distribution, and consumption of Madeira wine is a tour de force, opening up important new perspectives on life in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world."—Richard S. Dunn, University of Pennsylvania
Karen Ordahl Kupperman

"David Hancock's work is exemplary both for his breadth of vision and the depth of his archival grounding; it is truly Atlantic in scope with its concentration on multi-centered activities and on the interconnectedness of Atlantic enterprises. Oceans of Wine offers a new conceptualization of the eighteenth-century economy by arguing that the Madeira trade was shaped by consumer demand, and that the fortification, packaging, and distribution of Madeira wines responded to the specific tastes of different markets. In this study he recreates the evolving networks and the countless individual choices by which commodity exchange lines knitted the Atlantic together and he draws on the perspectives of a remarkable range of disciplines in doing so."—Karen Ordahl Kupperman, author of The Jamestown Project

Philip Morgan

“Madeira is an Atlantic commodity with a difference: it moves from cheap table wine to luxury item; its distribution looks less like a hub-and-spokes model than a decentralized spider's web; it is thoroughly transimperial; it is America's wine; its consumption occurred more in the home than in public spaces. This is a richly detailed, deeply textured, and superbly researched commodity study that reorients Atlantic history.”—Philip Morgan, Johns Hopkins University

Linda Colley

"Out of a mountain of hitherto unexplored manuscripts, David Hancock has constructed a vivid and rigorous history of one of the most important luxury commodities of the 18th century: Madeira wine. In exploring its production, trade, ubiquitous consumption, and social and cultural meanings, Hancock displays again his formidable capacity to combine precise economic analysis and trans-oceanic range."—Linda Colley, Princeton University
Gourmand World Cookbook - Best Book of European Wine

Winner of the 2009 Gourmand World Cookbook Award in the Best Book of European Wine category

Library Journal
In this expansive, well-researched work from the interdisciplinary field of Atlantic history, Hancock (history, Univ. of Michigan, Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of the British Atlantic Community, 1735–1785) focuses on the commodity of Madeira in an effort to explain how producers, distributers, and consumers in the long 18th century used global trade networks, constructed through negotiation and "conversation" to transcend artificial barriers constructed by central authorities. These "self-organized" networks in turn facilitated the transfer of cultural, economic, and political information across international borders. Expanding upon the historical methodologies of T.H. Breen's Marketplace of Revolution, Bernard Bailyn's Atlantic History: Concept and Contours, and Richard S. Dunn's earlier Sugar and Slaves, Hancock admirably uses a wealth of previously unexplored primary documents to reconstruct this dynamic world. His book ranges from the production of Madeira on the Portuguese island to a detailed analysis of how consumers in both the urban centers and backcountry wilds of America developed a socially stratified world defined by the "gentility of drinking." VERDICT While the work's scholarly tone may limit its potential audience, students and scholars across the academic spectrum as well as wine enthusiasts will benefit from Hancock's monumental study. Highly recommended.—Brian Odom, Pelham P.L., AL
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Product Details

Meet the Author

David Hancock is professor of history, University of Michigan. He is the author of Citizens of the World: London Merchants and the Integration of the British Atlantic Community, 1735–1785, The Letters of William Freeman, 1678–1685, and History of World Trade since 1450.

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