WISO-Abendkolloquium 29.10.2019


The Swedish Plantation: Work in the early modern Swedish iron trade.

Göran Rydén (Uppsala)

Zeit: Dienstag, 29. Oktober 2019, 18:00 - 19:30 Uhr

Ort: Seminarraum WISO 1, Hauptgebäude, Stiege 6, 2. Stock, Zwischengeschoß

Moderation: Erich Landsteiner

My presentation will be centred upon the Swedish concept bruk. A bruk was combination of a large landed estate, worked by lease-holding peasants, and an industrial hamlet, where skilled artisans produced high quality bar iron. There was an integrated aspect between these two parts, as the production of iron was to mirror the capacity of the estate to supply charcoal on an annual basis. It was also the leaseholders who undertook most of the transportation needed for raw material and for the bars to reach the sea, and further shipments to the market. In the eighteenth century about three quarters of the Swedish export consisted of bar iron, so the iron trade was of utmost importance to Sweden, and it is no exaggeration to state that it was through iron Sweden was connected to a wider world. At the same time these bruk have been viewed as very Swedish phenomena.

There was a time when almost every Swedish economic historian should work on the iron trade, meaning that we have a thorough knowledge about its development and importance for the Swedish society. Now there are few who is interested in these bruk and Swedish iron making. This is a pity as there are still a lot we do not know about them. I will touch upon three neglected areas. My starting point is that they might not be that Swedish after all, and I state that we might actually compare them with slave plantations on the other side of the Atlantic. A second neglected field is the link between the agricultural side of a bruk and the industrial production. The third field is the lack of knowledge about the work that took place on a bruk. Keith Wrightson wrote about two decades ago that the household was an ‘institution geared for work’, a decade Max Edelson migrated that quote to the plantation world of South Carolina. What I want to do here is to propose yet another transfer and state that these Swedish bruk were institutions geared for work.

My presentations will be divided into three separated parts, after a more general introduction. For most of the time I will talk about the bruk, and I aim to give you an extensive and empirically dense description of what a bruk was and how it functioned in the second half of the eighteenth century. I will concentrate upon aspects of work but add dimensions of housing and accommodation. I will also relate the bruk to the international iron market. In a second section, I will initiate a process of comparison between the bruk and the Atlantic slave plantations. This will mainly be a comparison between my own empirical research and literature on plantations, as I have only briefly worked with plantation records. I will end my presentation with a very short, but also open-ended, section aiming at a comparison with the central and eastern European estates.