Vol 31 | No 2 | Spring 13
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New Resource: Global Commodities: Trade, Exploration, and Cultural Exchange

The Libraries have acquired Global Commodities: Trade, Exploration, and Cultural Exchange, a full-text primary source database covering the study of global commodities in world history. It also touches upon other major themes such as exploration and discovery, imperialism, trade wars, slavery, mass production, and the evolution of global branding.

ImageThe fifteen commodities included in the database are: chocolate, coffee, cotton, fur, opium, oil, porcelain, silver and gold, spices, sugar, tea, timber, wheat, and wine and spirits. And each commodity has a myriad of primary sources that demonstrate its importance in history.

Exploring the commodity coffee, you can read:

  • a natural history of coffee from its origins in Ethiopia
  • a first-hand account of coffee drinking in 17th century Arabia
  • reports from a Kenyan coffee plantation
  • meeting minutes from a coffee-house society

Readers will particularly enjoy accounts such as one found in a 1685 tract on the health concerns of coffee. A Dr. Willis believed coffee could cure headaches, dizziness, lethargy, and cataracts but was also concerned about some unfortunate side effects:

Where the temperament is hot, and lean, and active, there coffee may not be very agreeable, because it may dispose the Body to inquietudes. The doctor makes one unlucky observation of this Drink, which I am afraid will cow our Citizens from ever meddling with it hereafter, that it often makes men paralyzed, and does so slacken their strings, as they become unfit for the sports and exercises of the Bed.

ImageIn addition to printed materials, there are many types of visual sources such as paintings, maps, photographs, and advertisements. One search in the Visual Resources section found that English persons in the 17th and 18th century particularly liked an anecdotal account of Sir Walter Raleigh being soaked by his servant who, having never witnessed the smoking of tobacco, threw a jug of water over him. Various images depicting this tale appeared on tobacco labels and illustrated histories.

Global Commodities is part of a growing collection of digitized primary sources available through the UCI Libraries. For more information, contact Becky Imamoto, Research Librarian for History (x42639 or rimamoto@uci.edu).