About the Commodity Frontiers Initiative

The Commodity Frontiers Initiative (CFI) is a network of individual scholars,  research teams and civil society organizations from all over the world. With more than 25 partner institutes, all participants have been working extensively on global commodity production, rural societies, labor history, the history of capitalism, and counternarratives and conflict, and have published some of the most important books, articles, and reports in the field. Together, they are expert on a wide range of global commodities, covering all the principle producing regions of the world, from the early modern period to the present day, employing a range of approaches, including social and economic history, anthropology, economics, sociology, political science, ecology and development studies.

The Commodity Frontiers Initiative aims to systematically catalogue, study and analyze a wide variety of commodity frontiers over the past 600 years. It strives to understand the role of the countryside and its people in the history of capitalism through an integrated and interdisciplinary research design that combines local in-depth studies with innovative methodologies such as the creation of large data hubs, data visualization, mapping and ethnography. By providing a long historical perspective on problems that are often assumed to be modern, and linking historical and contempory research, the Initiative will endeavor to recast our thinking about issues of sustainability, resilience and crisis and thus contribute to the politics of our own times.

Our ambition is to achieve a highly visible and high-quality research programme with the potential to change the fields of global history and development studies by combining history, political ecology, development studies and computational sciences. Moreover, links with visual artists and contacts with printed and electronic media facilitate outreach to a general audience. Our biannual newsletter—featuring contributions from members of the CFI network, edited by a board of leading researchers in the field, and hosted and disseminated through this project website—enhances the reach of our work to a general audience and in academia.

Within the CFI network, we have now a leadership of four: Mindi Schneider (Wageningen University), Sven Beckert (Harvard University), Eric Vanhaute (Ghent University ) and Ulbe Bosma (International Institute of Social History).

This team has proposed a research agenda published in the The Journal of Global History as an agenda setting article – with comments by Finlay & O’Rourke, Maxine Berg and Ruth Mostern – which is an indication that the CFI has moved the vanguard of global history.

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