Oceans of Wine

Madeira and the Emergence of American Trade and Taste

David Hancock

View Inside Price: $100.00

September 22, 2009
680 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
57 b/w illus. & 16 color plates
ISBN: 9780300136050

Out of Print

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.

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.

"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

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

"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

"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

“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

"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

"Oceans of Wine situates wine at the centre of the Atlantic dynamic which spurred the economic ascendancy of the Americas. While Hancock’s entertaining narrative engages the reader, the real power of this book rests in its capacity to demonstrate how economic networks and individual ties came to define not only a new culture of consumption, but also a nation."—James Moxness, The Oxonian Review

‘The journey from lumpen clay to the limpid elegance of decorative flint glass is but one of the strands in this altogether magisterial, surprising and important book…In its diligently researched evocation of that world, in which the modern Atlantic economy was born, this book will serve as the benchmark for many years to come.’ — Stuart Walton, World of Fine Wine Magazine, February 2010

"Hancock . . . has produced a masterpiece of economic and social history that deserves a wide audience. This history of the production, trade, and consumption of Madeira wine from 1640 to 1815 has several layers, each fascinating. . . . The book is an engrossing window to the past that simultaneously teaches something about the nature of economic and society relations today. . . . Highly recommended."—M. Veseth, Choice

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

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

"Hancock's skill in viscerally recreating eighteenth-century elite society while at the same time throwing down a scholalry gauntlet."—Elizabeth Mancke, American Historical Review

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

Winner of the 2009-2010 Louis Gottschalk Prize sponsored by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies
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