Today’s oil palm plantations look pretty impressive after 20 years – tall, straight trunks; big leafy canopies shading the ground. Skilled workers use a “sickle pole” or a motorized limb saw to prune leaves and cut down heavy bunches of fruit. When the tree gets too tall, it dies – usually at the hands ofContinue reading “Climbing trees”
Author Archives: jonathanrobins
ASEH 2018 twitter presentation on oil palm in Asia
The graduate student caucus of the American Society for Environmental History (ASEH) organized a pre-conference on twitter to highlight academic contributions at the conference, and to provide an opportunity for those unable to travel to Riverside, CA to participate by sharing their own work and commenting on presentations. I was fortunate to be able toContinue reading “ASEH 2018 twitter presentation on oil palm in Asia”
“Not a blade of grass left standing”
“Not a blade of grass left standing.” This wasn’t a description of an environmental calamity, but rather the sales pitch for Gramevin, the trade name for a herbicide sold by Shell Chemicals. Commercial plantations in Southeast Asia were the target audience, and the grass in question–lalang (Imperata cylindrica)–was a constant enemy of planters. The grassContinue reading ““Not a blade of grass left standing””
For your salad and your skin?
It’s difficult to imagine a vegetable oil bottle offering a recipe for homemade cosmetics today. The line between “food” and “cosmetics” is well-defined in contemporary consumer culture, even if many of the ingredients are the same. Early cottonseed oil marketers didn’t want to leave any potential market untapped: this advertisement, circa 1895, encourages homemakers toContinue reading “For your salad and your skin?”
“A monstrous anachronism”?
Peter T. Bauer’s The Rubber Industry: a Study in Competition and Monopoly (1948) (review: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2226882) is regarded by many historians of colonial economic history as a brilliant application of neoclassical theory to the realities of agricultural development in the tropics. Bauer demonstrated that smallholders in Malaysia were more efficient in producing rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) than largeContinue reading ““A monstrous anachronism”?”
IJAHS review of Cotton and Race
Writing in the new issue of the International Journal of African Historical Studies, Alex Borucki says Cotton and Race across the Atlantic is “commodity studies at its best,” with “solid foundations built by different theoretical approaches on how to examine a different set of sources in different contexts of production and exchange in Europe, Africa, and North America. And the bookContinue reading “IJAHS review of Cotton and Race”
JBS review of Robins, Cotton and Race
In a new review forthcoming in the Journal of British Studies, Steven Toms says Cotton and Race across the Atlantic is “an absorbing interplay of economics and politics straddling three continents at the height of the age of imperialism,” and “a valuable contribution to the history of cotton, not just of the commodity, but also of theContinue reading “JBS review of Robins, Cotton and Race”
Vegetable oil: more important than steel?
This experiment in research blogging has slowed down quite a bit, in part because I haven’t been able to do much new research. Getting back into a research routine after a summer spent on other projects is taking time. Today’s accidental find is the USDA’s Inventory of Seeds and Plants Imported, a register of specimens sentContinue reading “Vegetable oil: more important than steel?”
The perils of borrowing citations (or: did ancient Egyptians really use palm oil?)
I admit to having read articles and books for the sole purpose of looking at their bibliography. It’s easy to borrow a few citations from those who have done similar work before, especially if you need to fill out a section of background information. Problems arise when we don’t actually read the sources, however. Example A: Friedel,Continue reading “The perils of borrowing citations (or: did ancient Egyptians really use palm oil?)”
A living book?
It’s not often that historians get a chance to revisit their published work. Only the most successful books merit a second edition and a chance to revise and expand the original scholarship. The rest of us have to live with what we wrote. We can be excused for missing brand new articles and books, but it’s frustratingContinue reading “A living book?”