Commodities of Empire (CoE) is a British Academy Research Project, currently based at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Modern and Contemporary History, in collaboration with the University of London’s Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS). It involves a team of twelve scholars based in six countries, organizes annual workshops on selected themes, and publishes the Commodities of Empire Working Papers series. The CoE network has also collaborated on a variety of publications, most recently the Oxford Handbook of Commodity History (due to appear in 2023/34). It is closely integrated with the Commodity Frontiers Initiative.
It is based on the premise that ‘commodities’ and ’empires’ have long had a mutually reinforcing relationship. Over the last six centuries the quest for profits has driven imperial expansion, with the global trade in commodities fuelling the ongoing industrial revolution. These ‘commodities of empire’, which became transnationally mobilised in ever larger quantities, included foodstuffs (e.g. wheat, rice, bananas); industrial crops (e.g. cotton, rubber, linseed and palm oils); stimulants (e.g. sugar, tea, coffee, cocoa, tobacco, opium); and ores (e.g. tin, copper, gold, diamonds). Their expanded production and global movements brought vast spatial, social, economic and cultural changes to both metropoles and colonies.
In the Commodities of Empire project, we explore the networks through which particular commodities circulated both within and in the spaces between empires, with particular attention to local processes originating in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and Latin America, which significantly influenced the outcome of the encounter between the world economy and regional societies. We adopt a comparative approach and explore the experiences of peoples subjected to different imperial hegemonies.