History Department
History Department

IHS considers historical impact of commodity production and consumption, with "Capital and Commodities" theme in 2014-15

Thu, October 10, 2013
IHS considers historical impact of commodity production and consumption, with
"The Tulip Folly," (1882) artist Jean-Léon Gérôme. Walters Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Cyril W. Keene, 1983.

“Shop till you drop,” “You are what you eat,”  “I found it on e-bay,” “Scored some swag”: the jargon of contemporary culture reveals the ways in which commodities have come to define our day-to-day lives in the United States. Our very identities are profiled by corporate and government entities through our on-line purchases and Internet activity. “Although commodities have long served as levers of capital accumulation and motors of global trade, as well as markers of social status and inclusion or exclusion,”  notes Seth Garfield, Director of the Institute for Historical Studies, “the proliferation of mass consumerism worldwide, fuelled by increased global capital flows and the revolution in information technology, underscores the importance of  reflecting on the place of capital and commodities in history.  Recent globalized economic crises as well as human-induced climate change lend particular urgency to this initiative.”

This year’s theme, Capital and Commodities, prods researchers to consider the historical impact of commodity production and consumption on modes of labor, cycles of capital growth and crisis, natural resources allocation, systems of communication, and sociopolitical formations.  “By their very materiality,” Garfield notes, “commodities allow  historians the intellectual latitude to range across the fields of  political economy, social history, political ecology, and material culture. Yet  commodities also provide a privileged window onto the history of  mentalities, ideas, and tastes that are critical to the symbolic and phenomenological foundations of the human experience.”

In this vein, the Institute encourages analytical approaches that underscore the sociocultural, political, environmental and intellectual underpinnings of the history of capital and commodities, and especially welcomes proposals that encompass broad timespans.

Please see our website for more information about the theme and details of fellowship policies and application procedures that reach across geographic areas and disciplinary boundaries.

About the image, "The Tulip Folly," 1882. Artist Jean-Léon Gérôme.

Gérôme illustrates an incident during the "tulipomania," or the craze for tulips, that swept the Netherlands and much of Europe during the 17th century. The tulip, originally imported from Turkey in the 16th century, became an increasingly valuable commodity. By 1636/7, tulipomania peaked, and, when the market crashed, speculators were left with as little as 5 percent of their original investments. In this scene, a nobleman guards an exceptional bloom as soldiers trample flowerbeds in a vain attempt to stabilize the tulip market by limiting the supply.
-Wikipedia commons

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