HIS 553-World Commodities and Historical Political Economy

This theme seminar, intended for aspiring Ph.D. students from any regional concentration, uses the burgeoning field of commodity history and the terrain of Latin American and global history to explore the uses and value of “political economy” in history. The cultural turn of the 1990s, however necessary, tended to erase many of the pressing social and economic concerns of previous waves of theoretically-inclined historians.  Now, emerging approaches to material goods and global consumption may offer to bring cultural, anthropological, constructionist, and transnational perspectives deep into the realm of economic and social history.  The seminar uses a string of those new commodity histories to trace out these possibilities for more culturally and socially informed varieties of historical economics.  In the process, students will concertedly revisit and reflect on classic interdisciplinary and materialist perspectives such as modernization, state-building and developmentalism, neo-Marxism, Polanyian anthropology, structuralism, institutionalism, dependency, and world systems analysis.

This seminar demands intensive reading and discussion participation.  It welcomes graduate students with interdisciplinary interests.  The semester is divided into two parts.  In the first half, we plow through and dissect new works in commodity history.  In the second half, in close consultation with the professor, students focus on a particular political economy school or tradition for individual study.  Students will learn about and evaluate its earlier contributions to historical research, its limitations, and its prospects for renewal.  The seminar has two written assignments. The first, over Weeks 6-7, is a brief exercise, from a collective essay question, about the commodity literatures covered.  The second  paper, about 15-20 pages, will result from student’s critical assessment of a historical political economy perspective, and is due on the last day of the seminar, May 7.  Students will report on their themes in seminar as well.

The following seminar books–most  worth buying–are available at Stony Brooks (only):

Steven Topik, Carlos Marichal, and Zephyr Frank, eds, From Silver to Cocaine   (Duke UP)

Arnold Bauer, Goods, Power, History:  Latin America’s Material Culture (Cambridge UP)

Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power:  The Place of Sugar in Modern History (Penguin)

Arturo Warman, Corn & Capitalism (Univ. of North Carolina Press)

Judith Carney, Black Rice: African Origins of Rice Cultivation in the Americas (Harvard UP)

William Roseberry, Gudmundson, Samper, Coffee, Society, and Power in Latin America (JHUP)

John Soluri, Banana Cultures (Univ. of Texas Press)

Paul Gootenberg, ed., Andean Cocaine: The Making of a Global Drug (on order, UNC Press)

Fernando Coronil, The Magical State (Univ. of Chicago Press)

We’ll also deploy a few critical “handouts” during the first weeks of the seminar. The professor’s office hours are best confirmed by graduate appointment.  Professors Moran/or Roxborough from Sociology may come talk to the group about “development” studies.