Molly WarshAug 7, 2018
Pearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700
University of North Carolina Press 2018
The early-modern Atlantic World was a chaotic place over which European empires frequently had little control. In her new book American Baroque: Pearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700 (University of North Carolina Press, 2018), Molly Warsh uses the pearl trade to explain the complications around imperial economies and imaginations. She looks at human fascination with the jewel, the challenges of fishing for the oysters that contained it, and the near impossibility of regulating it for an early-modern state. Caribbean fisheries took center stage in Iberian attempts to grow rich off of pearls, but indigenous and African labor, alongside colonial subterfuge made the trade a problematic one for imperial regimes. American Baroque tells a global story about the pearl’s influence across multiple locations, and the ways that early empires struggled to hold their grip.