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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Cotton and Salt: Swedish Colonial Aspirations and the Transformation of Saint Barthélemy in the Eighteenth Century

Holger Weiss, Laura Hollsten and Stefan Norrgård

Environment and History 26 (2020): 261-287. doi: 10.3197/096734018X15254461646495

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The environmental history of the Caribbean has been strongly associated with the consequences of sugar cane agriculture and extreme weather phenomena. Consequently, other aspects of environmental change at play in the Caribbean region have remained less known. However, islands such as Anguilla, Barbuda, and Saint Barthélemy had no or very few sugar plantations. The fact that non-sugar producing islands had to find other ways of supporting themselves shaped their environmental history in ways that differed from that of the sugar islands. These alternative environmental histories deserve to be highlighted when presenting the historiography of the Caribbean. In this article, the island of Saint Barthélemy serves as a case study of an island where sugar cane agriculture was absent and tropical storms and hurricanes were of lesser consequence. In outlining the environmental history of Saint Barthélemy during the first decades of Swedish colonial rule, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the article shows that the Swedish takeover resulted in environmental changes. Sweden's ambitions and expectations concerning the improvement of the island were initially high and much effort was put into the development of the economy. The rationale for the Swedish plans was to exploit the few and scarce resources of the island, but it was the harbour that became the most successful endeavour.

KEYWORDS: Colonisation, plantation, dredging, islands, hurricanes, St Barthélemy, Sweden

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