Commodities in evolution workshop programme

Commodities in evolution:
historical change in different ages
of globalisation, 1800-2000
The 2nd Annual Workshop of the Commodities of Empire
Council Room, the British Academy, London
11 - 12 September 2008
First Call for Papers
Please submit an abstract of 300 words by 14 March 2008 to:
Dr Jonathan Curry-Machado, Coordinator, Commodities of Empire project:
[email protected]
The workshop will explore the long-term evolution of commodities in the modern era, particularly
from the perspectives of regions subjected to colonial rule in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the
Caribbean. While commodity chains were a major factor in promoting interrelations between
different parts of the world, this focus on the world outside Europe and North America is designed
to question dominant periodisations of ‘globalisation’. Even when not identified purely with near
contemporary processes, many accounts still tend to privilege late nineteenth century economic
convergence between the nation states of the North Atlantic as the most significant benchmark of
a ‘globalising’ world.
That modes and areas of production as well as patterns and places of consumption of
commodities such as tea, coffee, tobacco, sugar and cochineal underwent radical transformation
during this period is not in doubt. However, few accounts have focused on these changes over
the longue duree, which would open up exciting possibilities of identifying, comparing and
assessing the various mechanisms, both local and international, that historically produced the
major shifts. This may also offer the promise of a more refined periodisation of ‘globalisation’,
even though we need perhaps to bear in mind that commodities, like other interconnecting forces,
were always uneven and limited in their ‘globalising’ capacities and that they generated
resistance, conflicts and inequalities as well as convergence.
The workshop will critically explore the following propositions:
How significant were changes in political regimes (e.g. from colonial to postcolonial) in the
evolution of commodity chains between 1800 and 2000?
How far did the movement of commodities help bring about changes in the technological
and infrastructural environment?
What was the ecological and social impact (e.g. in terms of the distribution of wealth) of
export crops over the long term?
What factors promoted changes in the perception of, and demand for, particular
What promoted and how significant were changes in labour regimes?
Can local experiences and changing histories of commodities help us towards a more
refined periodisation of ‘globalisation’?
A British Academy Research Project, Commodities of Empire is a collaboration between the
Caribbean Studies Centre at London Metropolitan University and the Ferguson Centre for African
and Asian Studies at the Open University. Further details can be found on the project website, at