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About the Initiative
The transformation of the global countryside has been essential to the emergence and consolidation of capitalism over the past 500 years. Providing raw materials and foodstuffs to satisfy the voracious appetite of city dwellers and machines, the flatlands, valleys, forests, marine spaces and mountains of the world have been transformed at astonishing speed.
Commodity frontiers have relentlessly pushed into rural areas, providing ever more labor, food, energy and raw materials to global markets. Driving economic growth, these frontiers have rapidly shifted from one location to the next, adapting to the social structures, politics, natural endowments and technical developments of particular places. In the process, sugar, cotton, soy, gold and oil frontiers, among others, have recast vast areas of the world’s natural environment. Appropriating ecological resources and often dispossessing rural people, their revolutionary social impact has had drastic implications for the ways billions of people have lived.
The Commodity Frontiers Initiative aims to systematically catalogue, study and analyze a wide variety of such commodity frontiers over the past 500 years. It strives to understand the role of the countryside and its people in the history of capitalism through an integrated and interdisciplinary research design that combines local in-depth studies with innovative methodologies such as the creation of large data hubs, data visualization and mapping. By providing a long historical perspective on problems that are often assumed to be modern, the Initiative will endeavor to recast our thinking about issues of sustainability, resilience and crisis and thus contribute to the politics of our own times.
The Commodity Frontiers Initiative is a network of individual scholars, research teams and non-governmental organizations from all over the world. All participants have been working extensively on global commodity production, rural societies, labor history and the history of capitalism, and have published some of the most important books in the field. Together, they are expert on a wide range of global commodities, covering all the principle producing regions of the world, from the early modern period to the present day, employing a range of approaches, including social and economic history, anthropology, economics, sociology, political science, ecology and development studies.