The Projects Committee at the British Academy has agreed additional support for the Commodities of Empire project, the full grant applied for, £25,000, has been awarded in £5000 tranches annually over the five-year period 1 April 2012-31 March 2017.
The British Academy confirmed the scholarly importance of the research and said the competence of the director and the team was clearly demonstrated. Significant publications from the research, including 17 research articles in the Working Papers series are openly available on the project website (www.open.ac.uk/Arts/ferguson-centre/commodities-of-empire/index.shtml).
Continued Academy funding and support will be used, in the first two years primarily to support additional research in relation to the Commodity Histories digital research project and to organise and attend seminars and workshops. In the third year, funds would be principally used in relation to the organisation of a major workshop to launch the new website; later funding is envisaged for further ‘high profile’ events and international conferences.
An official British Academy Research Project, Commodities of Empire is a collaboration between the Open University’s Ferguson Centre for African and Asian Studies and the University of London School of Advanced Study’s Institute for the Study of the Americas.
The mutually reinforcing relationship between ‘commodities’ and ‘empires’ has long been recognised. 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 (wheat, rice, bananas); industrial crops (cotton, rubber, linseed and palm oils); stimulants (sugar, tea, coffee, cocoa, tobacco and opium); and ores (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 such commodities circulated within, and in the spaces between, empires. We are particularly attentive 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, doing so through a comparative approach that explores the experiences of peoples subjected to different imperial hegemonies.