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CANCELED: Ulbe Bosma (IAS Netherlands)

Wed May 17th 2023, 12:00 - 1:15pm

"How Europe Learned to Love Sugar: Medieval and Early Modern Sugar Production in the Mediterranean World"

Sugar entered the shores and islands of the Mediterranean Sea via Persia. At that time, about 800 A.D., sugar was already traded over long distances but in small quantities. White crystalline sugar was just an item for rajahs, caliphs and emperors, who decorated their dinner tables with sculptures made from the white edible crystals. In the centuries that followed the waving green cane appeared in the fields from Jordan to Andalusia. Egypt became by far the largest exporter of sugar, which was carried all the way to England by Genoese cogs. Europe learned to love sugar. Sweeter than honey it was ascribed extraordinary pharmaceutical properties and became a precious item on the shelves of many apothecaries. Later on it entered the pantries of wealthy urban citizens. At that time, in the fifteenth century, sugar production started to move out of the Mediterranean Basin into the Atlantic realm to satisfy Europe’s ever-growing demand. A cruel history of plantation slavery followed.
In his newest publication, The World of Sugar: How the Sweet Stuff Transformed Our Politics, Health, and Environment over 2,000 Years (Harvard University Press, 2023), Professor Bosma discusses how sugar has been at the heart of capitalism, and this goes a long way in explaining why it poses such a threat to our bodies, our environment, and our communities.

Responses by Jens Amborg and Andrei Pesic.