Rethinking tobacco history: Commodities, empire and agency in global perspective, 1780–1960

Rethinking tobacco history: Commodities, empire and agency in global perspective, 1780–1960

Alexander van Wickeren (University of Cologne), Jean Stubbs (School of Advanced Study, University of London), William Clarence-Smith (SOAS University of London)
Vom - Bis
02.12.2021 - 04.12.2021
Alexander van Wickeren, Universität zu Köln

The digital conference "Rethinking tobacco history: Commodities, empire and agency in global perspective, 1780-1960" will take place between December 2–4, 2021.

Rethinking tobacco history: Commodities, empire and agency in global perspective, 1780–1960

Tobacco was one of the most important globally traded commodities from the 17th century through to the present day, and yet it has received relatively little attention in the historiography of modern empires in comparison to other commodities, such as sugar or cotton. Pushed by increasing consumption of a changing range of products, tobacco’s early modern globalization was followed up by an intensified commercialization regarding cultivation and processing in various world regions which were integrated into modern capitalism. The early globalization of tobacco had witnessed the relatively rapid diffusion of the American cultigen around the globe, which was more or less complete by the 17th century. Since the late 18th century, tobacco’s global commercial revolution paved the way for mass consumption, especially due to the rise of cigarette smoking in the late 19th century, providing the background for new concern about the health impact of tobacco since the 1960s. The conference investigates these new developments by addressing tobacco cultivation, processing, trade and consumption, from the late 18th century to the 1960s, in order to shed new light on recent approaches to rewriting the history of European and Western imperialism from a more global perspective.

Conference format:

The conference will be held as a Zoom meeting. We will discuss pre-circulated texts instead of oral presentations. Participation in the conference includes reading the texts beforehand. We will send a link to the Zoom session shortly before the conference.


Conference participation is by invitation only. Those who have a specialist interest in attending, please email Alexander van Wickeren ( before 31 October 2021 outlining the nature of their interest.

Cooperating institutions:

a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School of the Humanities, Global South Studies Center, Historical Institute (all University of Cologne) and the British Academy Research Project “Commodities of Empire” (School of Advanced Study, University of London)


Day One: 2 December 2021

13.30-14.00 Welcome & Introductory Remarks
Alexander van Wickeren (University of Cologne, Germany), Jean Stubbs (University of London, UK), William Clarence-Smith (SOAS University of London, UK)

14.00-14.15 Break

14.15-16.15 Panel 1: Colonies in local and global trade
Chair/Discussant: Christof Dejung (University of Bern, Switzerland)

Guido Cioni (Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II & Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa, both Italy): Venice between global goods and imperial concerns: The case of tobacco's production in the Ionian islands and the Dalmazia veneta, 1760s-1790s

Basma Fahoum (Stanford University, USA): Tobacco in Palestine/Israel, 1880s-1980s

C. J. Kuncheria (Jawaharlal Nehru University, India): An Empire of Smoke: Colonial Tobacco in Interwar Britain

Sibanengi Ncube (University of the Free State, South Africa): Southern Rhodesia and the Empire: The Dollar Crisis and Postwar Tobacco Trade Politics, 1947-1960

16.15-16.30 Break

16.30-18.30 Panel 2: Hispanic particularities?
Chair/Discussant: Vicent Sanz Rozalén (Universitat Jaume I, Spain)

Johan Sebastián Torres Güiza (Instituto de Investigaciones Dr. José María Luis Mora, Mexico): The Participation of the New Granada in the Spanish Imperial State Monopoly (1774-1812)

Montserrat Gárate Ojanguren (Universidad del País Vasco, Spain): Tabaco venezolano y hacienda imperial, 1779-1830

Santiago de Luxan Mendez & María de los Reyes Hernández Socorro (Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain): El modelo cubano del Tabaco y del azúcar. Canarias en la Segunda Globalización. La intervención de los hermanos León y Castillo

María Dolores Elizalde (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, CSIC, Spain): The abolition of the tobacco monopoly in the Philippines: Emergencies and resistances, 1870‐1885

Day Two: 3 December 2021

13.40-13.45 Welcome Back & Day One Recap
Alexander van Wickeren (University of Cologne, Germany)

13.45-15.45 Panel 3: Empires of knowledge
Chair/Discussant: Pierre Singaravélou (Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, France)

Martin Kalb (Bridgewater College, USA): Tobacco Fantasies? German Tobacco Cultivation in Southwest Africa

Christos Karampatsos (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece) & Nikolaos Alexis (University of Crete, Greece): Workers, machines, an emerging nation state and a crumbling Empire: The mechanization of the "Greek" Cigarette Making Industry, (1890-1925)

Xavier Huetz de Lemps (Côte d’Azur University, France):
Poor man's cigars: Tobacco micro-companies in the Philippines at the end of Spanish colonial period and the beginning of American domination

Gnieneferetien N. Silué (Université Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast): Le tabac dans la politique coloniale agricole de la France de 1910 jusqu'à la veille de la seconde guerre mondiale

15.45-16.00 Break

16.00-18.00 Panel 4: Changing labour regimes
Chair/Discussant: Ulrike Lindner (University of Cologne, Germany)

William A. Morgan (Lone Star College-Montgomery, USA): Tobacco in the Age of Cuba’s Second Slavery

Jesse Olsavsky (Duke Kunshan University, China): Runaway slaves, America's tobacco empire, and abolitionist political economy, 1830-1860

Ratna Saptari (Leiden University, Netherlands): Negotiating Tobacco Production: Tobacco Planters, Peasants and the State in Besoeki, East Java (from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century)

Kostas Tziaras (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece):
Tobacco smuggling as a survival network for the poor. The example of Thessaloniki, after the end of the Ottoman period

Day Three: 4 December 2021

13.10-13.15 Welcome Back & Day Two Recap
Alexander van Wickeren (University of Cologne, Germany)

13.15-15.15 Panel 5: Globalizing consumption
Chair/Discussant: Angelika Epple (Bielefeld University, Germany)

Laird Jones (Lock Haven University, USA): East African Tobacco Wars: Marketing machine vs. hand-rolled cigarettes, 1880-1914

Emma Thomas (University of New South Wales, Australia):
Tobacco, Power, and Agency in German Colonial New Guinea

Relli Shechter (Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel): Prosumption as Glocal History: Inconspicuous Consumption and Cigarette Production in Egypt, 1890–1939

Felicity Jensz (University of Munster, Germany): Collecting colonies with cigarette cards

15.15-15.30 Break

15.30-15.50 Concluding Remarks
Kathinka Sinha-Kerkhoff (International Institute of Social History, Netherlands)

15.50-16.30 Round Table Wrap Up
William Clarence-Smith (SOAS University of London, UK), Jean Stubbs (School of Advanced Study, University of London, UK), Alexander van Wickeren (University of Cologne, Germany)


Alexander van Wickeren
University of Cologne
a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne
50923 Cologne