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Advanced Historical Literature: Comparative


About the Course:

Imperial Commodities, Consumer Society and Race in Global History

Since the early 1980s, scholars in both the humanities and social sciences have become fascinated with that “queer thing,” the “commodity.”  They have all argued that the making, selling, using and displaying of commodities has occupied a central place in “modern” cultures in Europe and North America, but also in South America, Asia, Africa and elsewhere.  Nineteenth-century social and economic theorists such as Karl Marx believed commodities and their conspicuous display were a distinctive feature of modern industrialized and urbanized societies. Historians, however, have found “consumer revolutions” in many different times and places ranging from the 14th through the 21st centuries. A recent wave or subset of this scholarship on commodities have been to consider the relationship between the growth of consumer culture and imperialism, dubbing some key things as “imperial commodities.” Of course, the definition of an imperial commodity is up for grabs, but scholars have used that term to emphasize how the consumption, distribution, production, and circulation of things such as tobacco, sugar, tea, rubber have contributed to the making and unmaking of empires, race, and capitalism.  In this class, we will focus particularly on such questions from the vantage point of empires, colonies, and postcolonial states in Europe, North America, Asia and Africa since the 17th century. 


No pre-requisites have been entered for this course.


View the course’s Canvas page or the instructor’s page for documents: Erika Rappaport   

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