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Eric Tagliacozzo - "How the Spice Trade Made the World Modern"

Monday, February 29, 2016 - 4:45pm

122 Rockefeller Hall, Cornell University
ICM Lecture Series

Professor of History, Cornell University

The quest for spices brought the world together in ways that we only recognize now. Though spices have been in circulation since Antiquity, it really was roughly from the "Contact Age" forward (circa 1500 CE) that they began to play an absolutely vital role in connecting the world's scattered societies. Prior to that, the Mediterranean Basin and India were thinly connected by spices; further to the east, India and Southeast Asia were too, as were Southeast Asia and China further east from that. Han Dynasty princes were found buried with cloves in their mouths two thousand years ago (and cloves only grew 5,000 kilometers away in Indonesia then). Venice built an empire on the control of spices from Asia, and Istanbul did the same after the age of the Venetians was gone. This lecture looks at these old histories as an engine for global connection. It was, after all, spices that Columbus was looking for when he "found" the New World instead, so we are in some senses the result of his quest for the former, as we sit here in the latter. The barks and seeds of Asia ended up launching the beginnings of the imperial age, when European state-making projects under the guise of "East India Companies" eventually carved up much of the known world. We will follow this process and learn a bit about the objects of this unparalleled affection -- the spices themselves -- along the way. We take the pepper, seasonings, and salt on our dinner tables for granted. We shouldn't. What could be more prosaic? Yet those and other spices are one reason we are all here together, talking in the New World about voyages in the Old World long ago.

Eric Tagliacozzo is Professor of History at Cornell University. He is the author of Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States along a Southeast Asian Frontier (Yale, 2005) which won the Harry Benda Prize from the Association of Asian Studies, and more recently of The Longest Journey: Southeast Asians and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Oxford, 2013). He is also the editor or co-editor of a number of other books, on the global Hajj; on trans-nationalism in Asia as seen through time-periods, and through place; on Burmese lives under a coercive regime; on the state of the field of Indonesian Studies, and Indonesian sources more generally; on Chinese trade down to Southeast Asia, and Southeast Asian contacts west to the Middle East; and finally on the relationship between history and anthropology as disciplines. He is the Director of the Comparative Muslim Societies Program (CMS), as well as Cornell’s Modern Indonesia Project (CMIP), and serves as editor of the journal INDONESIA.

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