See Call for papers - The Open University

Environmental histories of commodities 1800-2000
A one-day conference organised under the auspices of the Commodities of Empire project
and the Institute of the Americas at UCL
Friday 11th September 2015, University College London
Conference organisers: Dr Sandip Hazareesingh (Open University), Dr Paulo Drinot (UCL)
This one-day conference organised jointly by the Open University’s Ferguson Centre for
African and Asian Studies and UCL’s Institute of the Americas will showcase state-of-the-art
research on nature’s contributions to, as well as the environmental impact and consequences
of, the historical production, circulation and consumption of commodities in the modern
period. The collaboration will enable coverage of the main continents of the global south,
enabling a broader reach than the customary ‘area studies’ conference framework, and is
aimed at facilitating fruitful conversations and debates across regional academic frontiers
and specialisms.
‘Commodities’ and ‘environment’ are naturally linked, and the past decade has seen the
emergence of a rich sub-field of research on human-environment interactions. Broadly, this
literature has suggested that one of the crucial ways of understanding environmental change
in the global south during the modern period is through a study of the territorial and
environmental aspects of commodity production.1 An initial focus on the transnational
political economy of ‘commodity chains’ and on the exercise of colonial power on agrarian
landscapes held responsible for environmental destruction and the exploitation of local
populations2 has more recently given way to a greater attention to the ‘agency of nature’ in
the production (or non-production) of commodities and to indigenous and local social actors
and their modes of environmental knowledge. Recent studies have, for instance, shown how
the climate, soil and environments of Latin American countries have both facilitated and
limited the production of certain export commodities,3 how both soil-borne and air-borne
banana pathogens have impacted on forests and indigenous lands in Honduras,4 and how
Egyptian and Indian peasants were able to use their knowledge and experience of local
environments to contest and resist the agrarian designs of their respective imperial
Brenda Baletti, review, Journal of Latin American Geography vol. 4 no. 2 (2005), 116.
Influential examples of work in this vein are Steven Topic et. al. (eds.), From Silver to Cocaine: Latin American
Commodity Chains and the Building of the World Economy (2006) and Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El
Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World (2001).
Christian Brannstrom (ed.), Territories, Commodities and Knowledges: Latin American Environmental Histories
in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (2004).
John Soluri, Banana Cultures: Agriculture, Consumption and Environmental Change in Honduras and the
United States (2006).
Alan Mikhail, Nature and Empire in Ottoman Egypt. An Environmental History (2011); Sandip Hazareesingh,
‘Cotton, Climate and Colonialism in Dharwar, western India 1840-1880’, Journal of Historical Geography 38
The conference will showcase and debate the current state of play of research on
commodities from environmental historical perspectives. We invite papers from scholars
from any discipline working on any region of Africa, Asia, Latin America & the Caribbean
during the period 1800-2000. Papers may, for instance, address
 the impact of climate, extreme weather events, soil, pests or pathogens
commodity landscapes, waterscapes, or human livelihoods.
 the environmental effects of the development of plants or minerals into commodities
 the interface between colonial, scientific and indigenous environmental knowledge
in approaches to crop/commodity production
 the impact of modes of governance on agrarian, forest and water environments
 the significance of animals as factors of production in agrarian landscapes
 the environmental impact of changing local/global patterns of commodity
 gendered commodity environments
 new approaches, or theoretical frameworks, in the environmental histories of
The conference will consist of moderated panel sessions featuring twelve papers grouped
together by the organisers and led by a respondent. We invite scholars to submit a single
document proposal which should include an abstract of 300 words, their name, institutional
affiliation and contact information, and a one-page C.V. The deadline for the receipt of
proposals is Tuesday 31st March 2015. The conference will be open to a small number of
interested attendees, principally early career researchers.
Proposals should be sent to Dr Jonathan Curry-Machado, Co-ordinator, Commodities of
Empire project ([email protected]).