Eric Tagliacozzo – University of Copenhagen

ADI Conference 2019 > Keynote speakers > Eric Tagliacozzo

Eric Tagliacozzo, Professor of History, Cornell University

Keynote address - 19 June, 11:15-12:15

How the Indian Ocean Spice Trade Made the World Modern

The quest for spices brought the world together in ways that we only recognize now. Though spices have been in circulation since Antiquity, it really was roughly from the "Contact Age" forward (circa 1500 CE) that they began to play an absolutely vital role in connecting the world's scattered societies. Prior to that, the Mediterranean Basin and India were thinly connected by spices; further to the east, India and Southeast Asia were too, as were Southeast Asia and China further east from that. Han Dynasty princes were found buried with cloves in their mouths two thousand years ago (and cloves only grew thousands of kilometers away in Indonesia then). Venice built an empire on the control of spices from Asia, and Istanbul did the same after the age of the Venetians was gone. This lecture looks at these old histories as an engine for global connection.  The barks and seeds of Asia ended up launching the beginnings of the imperial age, when European state-making projects under the guise of "East India Companies" eventually carved up much of the known world. We will follow this process and learn a bit about the objects of this unparalleled affection-the spices themselves-along the way. We take the pepper, seasonings, and salt on our dinner tables for granted. We shouldn't. What could be more prosaic? Yet these and other spices are one reason we are all here together, in a world that today we all commonly share.


Much of Eric Tagliacozzo's work has centered on the history of people, ideas, and material in motion in and around Southeast Asia, especially in the late colonial age. His first book examined many of these ideas by analyzing the history of smuggling in the region (Yale, 2005), and his most recent monograph also did this through the lens of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca (Oxford, 2013). Several edited volumes also look at Southeast Asia’s connections with the Middle East; at the idea of Indonesia over a 2,000-year period; at Sino-Southeast Asian contact over the last millennium; and at the meeting of history and anthropology generally (and conceptually) as disciplines. Currently he is working on a book about the linked maritime histories of Asia, from Yemen east to Yokohoma.  He directs the Comparative Muslim Societies Program (CMS) at Cornell, as well as the Cornell Modern Indonesia Project (CMIP), and he is the editor of the journal INDONESIA.