Interrogating Commodity Cultures | Exploring Global Connections

5 May 2017

This one-day interdisciplinary workshop will interrogate the cultural transformations effected by global commodity histories in the long nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Colonial conquest, advancements in travel technologies and industrialisation all contributed to creating the material conditions which allowed for the production, consumption, and movement of commodities across the globe. In so doing, the global capitalist system and actors within it changed not only transnational relations, but also local cultures and practices. The increased mobility of commodities, peoples and things introduced new geographies of connection and provided new ways of imagining the contact zones of colonial encounters. This workshop will ask how the global circulation of commodities is mediated through forms such as novels, poetry, drama, advertising and art. It will explore how these literary and visual mediations of the global circulation of commodities have rewritten the map of the globe and introduced new spatial imaginaries and dynamics of power. What kinds of artistic and literary responses have these commodity histories generated? How do these responses register and resist the long-lasting and far-reaching effects of the global circulation of commodities? Given that commodity histories are rarely confined within neat temporal borders, and their legacies and cultural interpretation have an enduring tendency to persist, what mode of trans-historical reading is adequate to the task? What new methodological approaches are necessary to grapple with the circulation of goods in a globalised world? And what is at stake in utilising these multiple scales of reference, from the local to the transnational?
We hope to attract a wide range of perspectives in the seminar: papers from literature, literary and cultural geography, art history, and history are all welcome. The following topics are intended as suggestions only:

  • Literary and visual engagements
  • Spatial/Geographical imaginaries/cartographies/maps
  • Trade narratives/routes on land/at sea
  • Specific commodity histories/case studies (e.g. coffee/tea/cotton/narcotics/spices/ wool)
  • Narratives of resistance/power
  • Commodities and mobility/migration
  • Form/genre
  • Travel writing
  • Ports/Docks as liminal spaces/sites of connection
  • Environmental histories and eco-critical responses
  • Literary geographies, including studies using GIS
  • Local practices, cultures and customs
  • Rise of the ethical consumer
  • The ‘archival turn’ and commodity history
  • Culture, commodities and the financial/economic humanities
  • Material cultures/thing theory

Please send 250-word abstracts for a 20 minute paper and a 100-word biography to by 27 February 2017.
We are grateful to the UCD Humanities Institute for supporting this event.