Proposal preview

Labor, Technology, and Institutions in Global Commodity Chains: 16th-19th Centuries

This panel aims to put scholars working on different commodities in conversation and explore similarities and differences in the production and exchange trajectories of various global commodities during the 16th and 19th centuries. Potential contributions on (mostly agricultural) commodities such as cotton, indigo, silk, sugar, poppy/opium, among others, will examine the aspects of labour, technology, and institutions across these commodities as well as across regions and time. Contributors will examine the relative advantages in factor endowments of a region in relation to others and explain to what extent these factors were responsible for the relative success or failure of commodity chains. A major focus of the papers in this panel will be to identify the types of labour (slaves, household labour, wage labour, bonded labour, etc.), technology, and institutions and explore transformations in them during this period as well as their implications for production and profitability. The panel aims to have a balanced coverage of the world regions with papers on commodities from the old and the new worlds. Recent scholarship on commodities is mainly focused on the 19th and 20th centuries and has generally privileged some imperial commodities such as sugar, coffee, and rubber over others. It has also been heavily focused on the new world commodities and many important aspects of commodity production in Asia and Africa during the 16th and 18th centuries have not been fully explored. The overall aim of this panel is to develop comparative historical perspective and a framework to study commodity chains and their relationship with each other. This will also stimulate further investigation of the convergences and divergences in global commodity production and economic change and provide a historical context for the study of the development of more modern industrialised commodity production systems.

Format of the panel
In this panel, we hope to have eight to ten presenters and two discussants. We will pre-circulate the papers and each panellist will have about 15 minutes for presentation and 15-20 minutes for discussion. We hope that the panellists will explore various commodities produced in different parts of the world during this period in a comparative historical framework.


  • Ghulam A. Nadri, Georgia State University,,

Session members

  • Rolf Bauer, University of Vienna, Austria,
  • Karoline Hutkova, University of Warwick, UK,
  • Ghulam A. Nadri, Georgia State University, USA,
  • Kathinka S Kerkhoff, Int. Institute of Social History, Amsterdam,
  • Ulbe Bosma, Int. Institute of Social History,
  • Atsushi Ota, ,
  • Adrianna Catena, University of Warwick,
  • Prakash Kumar, Pennsylvania State University,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Tirthankar Roy, LSE, UK,