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:
Psychoactive drug restrictions and prohibitions have typically followed a reactionary pattern. From tobacco to LSD, the introduction of novel drugs has prompted therapeutic experimentation. Officials showed little concern until these substances also became popular recreational intoxicants.
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.
Ryan Gingeras' book Heroin, Organized Crime and the Making of Modern Turkey provides an original contribution to the history of modern Turkey, particularly regarding the question of continuity and rupture from the late Ottoman period to the Republic, by taking the country's opium production, security service and criminal underworld as its focus.
The cotton industry is fundamental to the development of global capitalism and broadly shaped the world we live in today. It is therefore important to realise the extent to which this depended on the militarisation of trade, massive land expropriation, genocide and slavery.