Jonathan Robins

I am a historian of commodities, colonialism, and capitalism. My areas of interest include oils and fats, fiber crops and textile industries, food and consumption, and environmental and labor history broadly. I teach a range of courses in world history and industrial history as Associate Professor of Global History at Michigan Tech. I work with the Commodities of Empire project, organizing conferences on commodity histories. I also serve as the global book review editor for Agricultural History, covering titles outside North America.

Kernels: news and short historical episodes


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Oil Palm: a Global History

An award-winning history of the world’s most important oil crop. Based on research spanning five centuries and four continents, Oil Palm tells the story of how palm oil became a global commodity and the consequnces it brought for people and landscapes across the planet. Read more

Cotton and Race across the Atlantic

A transatlantic history of Britain’s failed attempt to build a new cotton empire in West Africa in the early twentieth century. Drawing on corporate and colonial archives, the book shows the limits of industry in influencing British imperial policy, the impact of racial thinking on economic planning, and the success of African farmers in resisting colonial impositions. Read more