History of Sugar – The Bitter and Sweet: A Three Part Course with Michael Krondl

History of Sugar – The Bitter and Sweet: A Three Part Course with Michael Krondl


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There is no food that has caused as much pleasure and suffering as sugar. Our three-part course will examine sugar’s contradictory and complex legacy: its history of slavery and exploitation, but also its use as a symbol of power and religion, and finally as the key ingredient in so many of our favorite foods. 

Ever since South Indians learned to refine sugar some 2500 hundred years ago, peoples’ appetite for the sweet crystals has been insatiable. Apothecaries have stirred sugar into medicine. Confectioners have spun sucrose into cotton candy, cast it into classical sculptures, and molded it into fancy bonbons. Europeans would never have picked up the caffeine addiction without sugar to temper the bitterness of tea, coffee, and chocolate. This seemingly limitless demand stimulated technological and financial advancements in production but also contributed to a labor shortage that was solved in the most brutal way possible. Our discussions will trace both the demand and supply of the sweet commodity from prehistory to the early twentieth century, from New Guinea to New Orleans. 

Led by an expert on the social history of sugar, Michael Krondl, this course will delve into the deeply ambivalent history of sugar. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of how tastes and fashions in food can have far-reaching consequences.

Lecture 1 –
“The bitter reed,” follows the spread of sugar from Asia to the Mediterranean where the Venetians created the template for the Atlantic slave-grown sugar economy. The lecture follows the expansion and eventual abolition of slavery in the New World sugar-growing colonies.

Lecture 2 –
 “The meaning of sugar,” examines how sweet foods have been used in religious observances from India to Italy, how potentates displayed their power through sugary displays, and how sweetness and femininity became linked in the Western imagination.
 
Lecture 3 – 
“Sweet invention,” looks to sugar the culinary ingredient, starting with Venetian renaissance confectioners, turning to Parisian dessert chefs, and concluding with the Industrial Revolution in confectionery. After all, chocolate is a child of the machine age. 

Author Michael Krondl writes about food and history. He has penned several books, including The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spices and Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert among others. He has edited and contributed to several Oxford University Press volumes on food and culture, including The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. He teaches at the New School and the City University of New York and has lectured at multiple venues including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, and San Francisco’s Exploratorium.

How does it work?
This is a three-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture. All Context Conversations are advertised in Eastern Standard Time.

When will I receive the Zoom link?
Your link to enter the Zoom room will be the same for all ten sessions. It will be sent to the email address used to place your order 30 minutes prior to each lecture's start time.

Is there a reading list in advance?
Though the course is open to participants with no background on this topic, there are suggested readings for further investigation. These will be provided at the course's conclusion.

How long are the lectures?
Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?
The course is $105 USD for three lectures.

Is a recording available?
Yes. All registered participants will be sent a recording link within 48 hours of each session's conclusion.

Not suitable for children under age 13 (sensitive content).

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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