Call for Papers: Rural History 2019 Panel – The introduction of colonial products in the European countryside

RHN 183/2018 | Call

Organiser: Gérard Béaur (CNRS/EHESS, Paris)

Rural History 2019, 10-13 September 2019, Paris, France

Deadline for paper proposals: 1 February 2019


Call for Papers:
Rural History 2019 Panel
The introduction of colonial products (coffee, chocolate, sugar, tea, tobacco)
in the European countryside. A “consumer revolution“?

It is increasingly common to argue that the 18th century would have experienced a “consumer revolution”. This change would have resulted in a rise in the standard of living and in new consumption patterns that would have transformed the countryside. We have a lot of statistical evidence or qualitative sources attesting to the emergence of a number of novelties in the level of comfort, such as the search for a new way of living and consuming, furnishing and clothing, the new habit to surround oneself with objects until then unknown, to prefer more “noble” materials, to multiply the number of utensils used in the house, to conceive even in another way the organization of the space in the household, in short to seek to get or to display a better way of life.

In this respect, the arrival of new colonial products such as coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate or tobacco has certainly been able to upset new social practices. This assumption is undoubtedly true and the consumption of such material goods occurred probably earlier in the cities, at least in the upper classes. But what about the countryside? To what extent had these new products, still classified as luxury goods, been introduced into peasant interiors? Which regional differences, which social gaps can emerge through the different choices of this type of consumption? To what extent was the adoption of each of these products concomitant or unrelated according to the different time periods? Can it be supposed that there were huge inequalities according to the access facilities offered by port sites or the proximity of inland waterways, or not? In what way did the development of these modes of consumption reveal a linear process and in what way, on the contrary, is it possible to identify global or selective inflections according to products or circuits?

What about the 17th century? Were there really more receptive areas and were there other areas slower to turn to these products? Was there such a gap?  Did an industrious revolution occur in the countries all along the North Sea and only there?  Or not at all? What about the influence of the French Revolution and of the French wars? Was the movement linear or subject to other constraints that could have reshuffled the cards, changed the geography of practices and opened the way to redistributions in the choice of consumers? To all these questions, we would like to bring some answers by case studies within rural societies that would allow to spatialize as well as to look for a chronology, to identify concordances, breakages, and shifts by a comparative approach engaged in the European area during two and a half centuries running from 1700 to 1850.

All proposals shall be submitted via the conference website ( with copy to Gérard Béaur (