Speaker: Rebecca Earle (University of Warwick)

What is modern about the potato? For Marx, the potato was the antithesis of modernity. ‘A sack of potatoes’ was his memorable description of peasant life in rural France, which in his view lacked any capacity for modern political organisation. For most of us, the potato is a banal food, resonant perhaps of the comforts of daily life, but possessing little political significance. This talk outlines the ways in which the potato is part of the history of modernity, and explores in particular its connections to the advent of capitalism, and its nationalist power.

Rebecca Earle is Professor of History at the University of Warwick. She is a historian of food and other cultural practices – such as clothing, letter writing and painting – within the cultural history of Spanish America and early modern Europe. She is the author of Spain and the Independence of Colombia (University of Exeter Press, 2000), The Return of the Native: Indians and Mythmaking in Spanish America, 1810-1930 (Duke University Press, 2008), The Body of the Conquistador: Food, Race and the Colonial Experience in Spanish America, 1492-1700 (Cambridge University Press, 2012) and Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

IHR Seminar SeriesLondon Group of Historical Geographers