Sugar and Spice (and Everything Nice): Commodities in World History

HISTORY 103F.004

Fall 2015
3104 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
Tu 12-2P
Our world is defined in many ways by our commodities. We run lights on electricity so cheap we don’t think about it; drink coffee from Ethiopia and Indonesia while taking comfort in the label’s assurance that workers and nature have been respected; eat 19¢ bananas that have been shipped from Honduras in interchangeable boxes kept at a constant 57°; and put on shirts, made with Brazilian cotton and sewn together in Cambodia, that advertise brands from all over the world. And all this is before we’ve left the house. Each one of these things, and countless other items we come into contact with every day, is the product of environmental, political, economic, and cultural processes operating at large and small scales. In this course, we will move through large expanses of time and space as we examine how commodities like these have come to exist, to move, and to take on meaning. Readings and assignments will encompass a variety of historical approaches to understanding commodities themselves and the people and institutions that make, buy, sell, give, and steal them. 

Course Books

Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination by Paul Freedman Yale University Press. ISBN: 978-0300151350 Required
Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History by Mintz, Sidney W. Penguin. ISBN: 978-0140092332 Required
Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption, and Environmental Change in Honduras and the United States by Soluri, John University of Texas Press. ISBN: 978-0292712560 Optional