‘Global Commodity Frontiers in Comparative Historical Context’

International Workshop, London, 9-10 December 2016

The transformation of the global countryside has been one of the key processes in the emergence and consolidation of global capitalism over the past 500 years. Providing raw and intermediate materials to satisfy the voracious appetite of machines and city dwellers, the flatlands, valleys, forests, marine spaces, and mountains of the world have been transformed at astonishing and accelerating speed. This process of appropriation of the world’s ecological surpluses has come to be understood as that of shifting ‘commodity frontiers’.

This two-day workshop is designed to explore the dynamics of frontier processes and how they relate to social, economic and ecological change in their zones of contact, with a view to developing a comparative approach to understanding the dynamics both of commodity frontiers and the historical trajectories within their frontier zones, as well as assessing new visualisation methodologies in achieving this.

We invite proposals for papers exploring the history, from the 15th to the 21st centuries, of commodity frontiers and their contact zones, from scholars across the humanities and the sciences working on case studies of frontiers involving commodities such as wheat, sugar cane, tobacco, cocoa, coffee, and cotton, as well as on pastoral frontiers and the extractive frontiers of forests, marine zones, and mines. We are interested in cases from all geographical regions, including those not formally considered ‘capitalist’, especially those in the Global South. We also encourage scholars who have been applying new visualisation methodologies, in particular offered by qualitative applications of GIS, to share insights and experiences.

The workshop is a collaboration between the Commodities of Empire British Academy Research Project, through its host Institute of Latin American Studies, part of the School of Advanced Study, University of London (ILAS-SAS) and the Institute of the Americas, University College London (IA-UCL), and the international ‘Commodity Frontiers’ research initiative, organised through the International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam), the University of Ghent, and Harvard University. Papers presented at the workshop will have the possibility of being published in the Commodities of Empire Working Papers series.

Please e-mail expressions of interest with provisional titles by 31st March 2015, to: Jonathan Curry-Machado, Coordinator, Commodities of Empire project (jon.curry-machado@sas.ac.uk).