Paradox of precision: Bright tobacco as technology transfer, 1880-1937

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This article compares two episodes of technology transfer in the 1890s: the movement of bright tobacco production technology to south-central Africa with the spread of the crop to eastern North Carolina and South Carolina. It finds similarities in the people who introduced the crop, but significant differences in the methods used to produce it. This is troubling because the type is defined by the cultivation and especially the curing techniques used to produce it; it is also often described in the historical literature as "Virginia tobacco," even when grown elsewhere. The technological differences are the product of different environments, which include not only the climate but also many elements of the technological system beyond immediate human control: the availability and organization of labor, differences in market structures and marketing institutions, and the government incentives provided to buyers. Therefore, this essay takes as its subject the paradox inherent in the official classification of tobacco types regulated by the USDA and argues that varietal types represent a form of market regulation disguised as botanical taxonomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-236
Number of pages17
JournalAgricultural History
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2008


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