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Rethinking tobacco history: Commodities, empire and agency in global perspective, 1780-1960

11-09-2020 15:08

Tobacco was one of the most important globally traded commodities from the 17th century through to the present day, and yet it has received relatively little attention in the historiography of modern empires in comparison to other commodities, such as sugar or cotton. As a result, recent approaches to rewriting the history of European imperialism from a more global perspective have hardly been problematized with regard to the peculiarities of tobacco history. Nowadays, studies no longer understand empire as a rigid relationship between metropole and colonies, but take the dynamics of actors within an empire as seriously as the networks and global processes that crossed imperial borders, or indeed lay beyond them. The conference starts from this assumption. We ask to what extent the history of tobacco allows new insights into the tension between the imperial integration of a metropole and its colonies, and the global entanglement of places and peoples within and beyond empires. Changing regimes of consumption, knowledge, myth-making, trade, and work, are central fields of recent commodity studies, and deserve particular attention. To this end, we aim to apply insights from economic and cultural history, but also from political, social, psychological, and environmental history. While Western overseas empires have tended to attract most attention, we welcome contributions on all countries and all empires.

Contact Info: 
The conference will be held at the University of Cologne, December 1–4, 2021. English will be main language of the conference. Contributions in French and Spanish are also welcome. Interpreter services will not be available. We seek to have a good representation of women, scholars based in the Global South, postdocs, and doctoral candidates.

Paper abstract of 500 words max. and Curriculum Vitae (one PDF, please) should be sent to the organizers (please see below) by November 15, 2020. We will inform applicants by early December 2020 of their papers being accepted. We are seeking funding to cover accommodation and travel, and confirmed applicants will be informed as soon as possible, and no later than mid-May 2021. A selection of conference papers will be considered for publication. Please feel free to contact us if you need any further information.

The organizers: Prof. Jean Stubbs (School of Advanced Study, University of London), Prof. William Clarence-Smith (SOAS University of London) and Dr. Alexander van Wickeren (University of Cologne).

Contact Email: rethinkingtobaccohistory[at]


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