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The Globalized Periphery: Atlantic Commerce, Socioeconomic and Cultural Change in Central Europe (1680-1850)

Consuming the Atlantic: American and African Imports on Central European Markets as Catalysts for Societal Change

Blaudruck Steinau a.d.O. ©Anka Steffen, Andrzej Sitarski

Indigo-dyed cloth from Steinau (an der Oder)/ Silesia. (Andrzej Sitarski | Anka Steffen)

Sub-project C focuses on the consumption of Atlantic products in Central Europe, analyzing the region’s integration into the world economy as a consumer. It traces Atlantic products imported through Central Europe’s seaports (notably Hamburg and Stettin), and follows their path from ship to processing to consumption. This project takes a special interest in lesser known merchandise from both the Americas and Africa, for example West African gum Arabic, which played a decisive role in European textile industries, dyestuffs from the Americas, or medicinal plants. This emphasizes the fact that the consumption of Atlantic materials was often ‘invisible’ in that their Atlantic identity disappeared during (or even before) production. Project C is also concerned with discourses surrounding the products and their consumption (or the lack thereof), notably concerning the gendered dimension of production and consumption.

The project’s approach is to conduct particular case studies that reveal broader tendencies. An investigation of Augsburg’s cotton printing industry has revealed the continuous presence of gum arabic in the printing process, and its trade and advantages for the industry have been analyzed in depth with the help of quantitative data and cotton printing manuals. The resulting article will be published in the journal Textile History. A second case study has focused on Berlin’s woolen industry, where the use of overseas dyestuffs in the partially state-owned manufactory Königliches Lagerhaus served as an entry point for the analysis of a “globalized Prussia.” A resulting article will be published in 2017 in the collection “Textiles and Material Culture”, edited by Kim Siebenhüner, John Jordon and Gabi Schopf of the University of Bern. A German-language article is currently in the works. The third angle concerning the textile industry is the question of discourse. Many American products, including dyestuffs, were produced by slave labor in the Americas, yet their “invisibility” compared to sugar or cocoa did not usually generate a lot of discussion about this connection. Besides the textile industry, the project looks for the presence of medicinals and foodstuffs from the Atlantic World in Central Europe, building on the finding that the Caribbean in particular functioned as a production center for Europe’s pharmaceutical market in the early modern period.