Monday, October 8, 2012

Books on the Spice Trade in Asia

This is a selection of titles on the spice trade in Asia:

Spice Journeys: Taste and Trade in the Islamic World. Islam is as closely tied to trade as it is to hospitality. Spices and aromatics provide unlimited opportunities for both activities. Since the time of the Prophet Muhammad, the Islamic world has had vital role to play. The story of Muslim cultivators and merchants is seldom told but has been shaping the world for centuries and continues to do so. Spice Journeys: Taste and Trade in the Islamic World takes readers into this generally uncharted territory.

Spice Islands by Ian Burnet. Cloves and nutmeg are indigenous to the Spice Islands of Eastern Indonesia, this book tells of the many uses of these exotic spices and the history of their trade over a period of more than 2000 years. It follows the Silk Road across Central Asia and the Spice Route over the Indian Ocean and describes how the spice trade into Europe came to be dominated by Middle Eastern and Venetian merchants. Backed by the Crowns of Portugal and Spain, explorers such as Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Magellan dreamt of capturing this trade by sailing directly to the Spice Islands, driving the maritime exploration of the world known as 'The Age of Discovery'. Much of the story is told through the lives of these historical characters, as well as Sir Francis Drake, Jan Pieterzoom Coen, Pierre Poivre, and others who are lesser known but equally important. The story also revolves around the intense rivalry between the Sultans of Ternate and Tidore and their relationship with the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English, who at different times occupied the Spice Islands. The book follows the growth of the Dutch and English East India Companies which were founded to profit from the spice trade and their efforts to monopolize that trade. It finishes as the Dutch East India Company goes into bankruptcy and the once splendid Sultanates sink into obscurity.

The Portuguese and the Straits of Melaka, 1575-1619: Power, Trade and Diplomacy by Paulo Jorge De Sousa Pinto. Following the fall of the Melaka Sultanate to the Portuguese in 1511, the sultanates of Johor and Aceh emerged as major trading centres alongside Portuguese Melaka. Each power represented wider global interests. Aceh had links with Gujerat, the Ottoman Empire and the Levant. Johor was a centre for Javanese merchants and others involved with the Eastern spice trade. Melaka was part of the Estado da India, Portugal's trading empire that extended from Japan to Mozambique. Throughout the 16th century, a peculiar balance among the three powers became an important character of the political and economic life in the Straits of Melaka. The arrival of the Dutch in the early 17th century upset the balance and led to the decline of Portuguese Melaka. Making extensive use of contemporary Portuguese sources, Paulo Pinto uses geopolitical approach to analyse the financial, political, economic and military institutions that underlay this triangular arrangement, a system that persisted because no one power could achieve an undisputed hegemony. He also considers the position of post-conquest Melaka in the Malay World, where it remained a symbolic center of Malay civilisation and a model of Malay political authority despite changes associated with Portuguese rule. In the process provides information on the social, political and genealogical circumstances of the Johor and Aceh sultanates.

History without Borders: The Making of an Asian World Region, 1000-1800 by Geoffrey Gunn. Astride the historical maritime silk routes linking India to China, premodern East and Southeast Asia can be viewed as a global region in the making over a long period. Intense Asian commerce in spices, silks, and ceramics placed the region in the forefront of global economic history prior to the age of imperialism. Alongside the correlated silver trade among Japanese, Europeans, Muslims, and others, China's age-old tributary trade networks provided the essential stability and continuity enabling a brilliant age of commerce. Though national perspectives stubbornly dominate the writing of Asian history, even powerful state-centric narratives have to be re-examined with respect to shifting identities and contested boundaries. This book situates itself in a new genre of writing on borderland zones between nations, especially prior to the emergence of the modern nation-state. It highlights the role of civilization that developed along with global trade in rare and everyday Asian commodities, raising a range of questions regarding unequal development, intraregional knowledge advances, the origins of globalization, and the emergence of new Asian hybridities beyond and within the conventional boundaries of the nation-state. Chapters range over the intra-Asian trade in silver and ceramics, the Chinese junk trade, the rise of European trading companies as well as diasporic communities including the historic Japan-towns of Southeast Asia, and many types of technology exchanges. While some readers will be drawn to thematic elements, this book can be read as the narrative history of the making of a coherent East-Southeast Asian world long before the modem period.

Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination by Paul Freedman. The demand for spices in medieval Europe was extravagant and was reflected in the pursuit of fashion, the formation of taste, and the growth of luxury trade. It inspired geographical and commercial exploration, as traders pursued such common spices as pepper and cinnamon and rarer aromatic products, including ambergris and musk. Ultimately, the spice quest led to imperial missions that were to change world history. This engaging book explores the demand for spices: why were they so popular, and why so expensive? Paul Freedman surveys the history, geography, economics, and culinary tastes of the Middle Ages to uncover the surprisingly varied ways that spices were put to use - in elaborate medieval cuisine, in the treatment of disease, for the promotion of well-being, and to perfume important ceremonies of the Church. Spices became symbols of beauty, affluence, taste, and grace, and their expense and fragrance drove the engines of commerce and conquest at the dawn of the modern era.

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