Syllabus: Dr. Paul Gootenberg- “Food and Drug Commodities in Global History”

Posted: April 13, 2012 in Teaching the History of Narcotrafficking and Gangs

The following syllabus was created by Dr. Paul Gootenberg, Professor of History at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. He is the author of the award-winning Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug (2008).

Dr. Gootenberg’s profile can be found here:


This Theme Seminar, intended primarily for aspiring Ph.D. students from any regional concentration or discipline, explores the history of what anthropologist Sidney Mintz calls the “food-drugs”–sugar, tobacco, coffee, alcohol, betel, chocolate, yerba mate, coca and the like.  It examines their creation as commodities and their powerful historical contributions to colonialism, capitalism and modernity.  More broadly, it is an introduction to the “new” commodity history and its expanding global horizons.  The core thematic questions posed are:  How were these food-drug commodities “constructed” out of things and/or from long-standing embedded social relationships?  How did certain local substances become profitable long-distance commodities after the 16th-century world conquests and become accepted and popular objects of mass consumption?  Why did others become eventually categorized, during the 19th and 20thcenturies, as unworthy, dangerous or illicit goods?  How did this commercial “psycho-active revolution” affect, culturally, politically and economically, the making of the modern world?  Students will take on interdisciplinary literatures (from Anthropology and Sociology) about commodity-formation and a broad series of recent monographs on particular substances, ending on those now deemed illicit.  About half of the literature is based on American-hemisphere substances and their global entanglements.

After a few weeks of introductory (more theoretical) readings, the Seminar revolves around weekly discussions of exemplary recent monographs about various food-drug commodities. There will be a collective mid-term “writing exercise” (around Weeks 7-8) and students will write and present a historiographic paper on the food-drug of their choice (Due Dec. 6). This seminar demands intensive reading and critical discussion and welcomes graduate students with interdisciplinary concerns. Office hours (MW 12-2 SBS N333), are best by appointment. The following seminar books (most worth buying) are available at Stony Brooks (only): W. Schivelbusch, Tastes of Paradise: Social History of Spices, Stimulants & Intoxicants Vintage Arnold Bauer, Goods, Power, History: Latin America’s Material Culture (Cambridge) Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (Penguin) Sophie and Michael Coe, The True History of Chocolate (Thames & Hudson) Judith Carney, Black Rice: African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas (Harvard) Jeremy Pilcher, Que Vivan los Tamales!: Food & the Making of Mexican Identity (New Mexico) David Courtwright, Forces of Habit: Drugs & the Making of the Modern World (Harvard) F. Bruce Lamb, Wizard of the Upper Amazon (North Atlantic Books-& varied publishers) Mark Pendergrast, Uncommon Grounds: Coffee and how it Transformed our World(Basic Bks) Paul Gootenberg, ed., Cocaine: Global Histories (Routledge) John Stevens, Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream (Perennial)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s