Sidney Mintz (1922-2015)

As we prepare for our upcoming events at the American Historical Association’s Annual Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia, this coming weekend, it’s worth remembering that this year’s holidays saw the loss of one of the historians whose work is sure to feature prominently in Friday’s discussion of the October 2015 conference we co-sponsored on the origins of global history.

That’s Sidney Mintz, the anthropologist and historian whose 1985 book Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History helped define the study of commodities as a core research agenda in global history — not to mention its role as a field-defining work in the realm of food studies. Mintz taught at both Yale and Johns Hopkins, where he founded the anthropology department, inspiring a generation of students to follow how foodstuffs, refuse, and bodies coursed through the networks created by modern trade. Think of the recent works that trace the global history of cod, salt, or cotton, for example, and their all owe their germs, in some sense, to Mintz’s work.

As you’re getting ready for your flight to Georgia, consider re-reading your copy of Mintz’s works – or, if you’re not aware of his influence yet, consider reading this excellent piece by his student, anthropologist Sarah Hill, published in The Boston Review.

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