How Chocolate Came to Be
People make chocolate from the seed of different varieties and species of a tropical tree, cacao (genus Theobroma). This presentation offers archaeological and ethnohistoric evidence to explore how changes in the human ecology of cacao cultivation and chocolate making relate to ideas of luxury, quality, and social and environmental sustainability. Popular and scholarly writings about chocolate narrate a comforting story of its origin as a precious, rare item and subsequent radical transformation during the colonial period into an everyday pleasure for a wide world of consumers. Anthropologist Sidney Mintz argued that a change in consumption is a sign of transformed production strategies. Who produced the necessary ingredients for chocolate, how they performed that work, and where that work happened all affected who ended up consuming and the taste, in the broadest possible sense, of that experience. What practices have endured or not and what were their social or environmental consequences? The cultural history of chocolate offers the opportunity to investigate relationships of producers, consumers, taste, and sustainability.
Dr. Kathryn Sampeck is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Illinois State University and an Associate with the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Her research on the archaeology and ethnohistory of colonialism examines the cultural history of taste, cultural landscapes, racial ideologies, literacy, money, and commerce in American commodities in the Early Modern world. Supported by fellowships from Harvard University, the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, and Colonial Williamsburg, and grants from the Fulbright program, National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and the Social Science Research Council, she has devoted years of archaeological and historical research to understanding the cultural history of chocolate. She co-edited, with Stacey Schwartzkopf, the 2017 volume Substance and Seduction: Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica and has published many articles about chocolate history. Sampeck is the Co-Editor of the journal Historical Archaeology.