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Global Commodities

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Trade, Exploration and Cultural Exchange


One of the most popular ways of teaching World History is through the story of Global Commodities and the way in which these transformed the world. This project focuses on fifteen significant commodities whose stories are often intertwined. They are:

  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Cotton
  • Fur
  • Oil
  • Opium
  • Porcelain
  • Silver & Gold
  • Spices
  • Sugar
  • Tea
  • Timber
  • Tobacco
  • Wheat
  • Wine & Spirits

Each commodity is documented through a wide range of manuscript materials, maps, posters, paintings, photographs, ephemera, objects and rare books so that the student can explore the origins of the commodity, their first uses, the trade that developed and the ways in which these items were marketed and consumed.

The project touches on themes of exploration and discovery; imperialism and attempts at monopoly; trade Wars; translocation and economic geography; slavery; mass production; luxury; taste; and the evolution of global branding.

See Detailed Information for a list of contributing archives and libraries.

Guided by a board of leading international scholars the project also offers:

  • contextual essays, written by specialists
  • interactive data maps, illustrating major production areas, the movement of commodities and the commercial growth of nations
  • museum objects, many in 360° versions that can be rotated
  • extensive image galleries, including advertising and packaging
  • suggested research topics based on the collections
  • online exhibitions highlighting key themes and documents
  • carefully selected external links
  • a detailed glossary and chronology

The resource complements and builds upon the success of Empire Online. Both collections are cross searchable.

See Detailed Information for more on this collection.

See also: China, America and the Pacific: Trade and Cultural Exchange