The Economists are peculiar people. They all recognise the importance of consumption, but most seem loath to discuss the details.
In Madness, Cannabis and Colonialism, James H. Mills examines the lunatic asylums of colonial India, between the war of 1857 and the end of the nineteenth century. Throughout this period, the total number of mental patients in the country did not exceed five thousand at any given time.
Luxury in the Eighteenth Century is a welcome collection of essays on a very important topic.
As the question of taste increasingly preoccupies social historians, this forms an admirable contribution to a burgeoning set of historical works that explore why and how we alter what we eat and drink.
Chocolate, writes Emma Robertson in the introduction to her monograph, ‘has been invested with specific cultural meanings which are in part connected to … conditions of production’ (p. 3). At the heart of this study is a challenge to existing histories:
Tijl Vanneste has written an important book about the functioning of commercial networks during the mid 18th century. The author goes beyond national boundaries, as he carefully analyzes how a cross-cultural, cross-religious, and cross-gender diamond merchant network operated between the cities of Antwerp, London, Amsterdam and Lisbon.
Indigo plantation in India came under scholarly examination initially in the context of colonial oppression and the indigenous protest against it, as a part of the history of freedom struggle. Over the years, it has become an aspect of economic history and of the history of the peasant movement.
At first sight this looks like another of those increasingly common commodity books, some of which are intended to be global in scope, and which include studies of chocolate, sugar, cod, salt and many others (digestible or not!). As Riello points out, commodities are a good way to tell a global story since many of them have been traded throughout the world for centuries.
The quest for saltpeter, the ‘inestimable treasure’ of Tudor and Stuart monarchs, crucial for the production of gunpowder, is the subject of David Cressy’s work, which spans the reign of the first Tudor, Henry VII, to the industrialised warfare of the 20th century.
The history of narcotics in Asia in the last century and a half has been the subject of considerable controversy and significant revision over the last 20 years or so.