How the Indian Ocean Spice Trade Made the World Modern

Eric Tagliacozzo

Venue: Room 1505, 1555 Century Avenue, NYU Shanghai
Date: Thursday, October 11, 2018
Time: 17:30 - 19:00 CST

The quest for Indian Ocean 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, Indian Ocean 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 I arrive in Shanghai from 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 about ancient voyages long ago.

Eric Tagliacozzo is Professor of History at Cornell University (USA), where he primarily teaches Southeast Asian Studies. He is the author of The Longest Journey; Southeast Asians and the Pilgrimage to Mecca (Oxford, 2013) and Secret Trades, Porous Borders: Smuggling and States Along a Southeast Asian Frontier, 1865-1915 (Yale, 2005), which won the Harry Benda Prize from the Association of Asian Studies (AAS) in 2007.  He is also the editor or co-editor of nine other books: Southeast Asia and the Middle East: Islam, Movement, and the Longue Duree (Stanford, 2009); Clio/Anthropos: Exploring the Boundaries Between History and Anthropology (Stanford, 2009); The Indonesia Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Duke, 2009); Chinese Circulations: Capital, Commodities and Networks in Southeast Asia (Duke, 2011); Burmese Lives: Ordinary Life Stories Under the Burmese Regime (Oxford, 2014); Producing Indonesia: The State of the Field of Indonesian Studies (Cornell, 2014); Asia Inside Out: Changing Times (Harvard, 2015); Asia Inside Out: Connected Places (Harvard, 2016); and The Hajj: Pilgrimage in Islam (Cambridge, 2016).  He is the Director of the Comparative Muslim Societies Program at Cornell, the Director of the Cornell Modern Indonesia Project, and editor of the journal INDONESIA.

Introduction and moderation of the Q&A by Tansen Sen, Director of the Center for Global Asia and Professor of History, NYU Shanghai.

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Location & Details

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