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Chocolate, Friction, and Violence -- Kathryn Sampeck

Date and Time: 
Thursday, May 1, 2014. 05:00 PM - 06:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Archaeology Center, building 500, seminar room
Meeting Description: 

 A tenet of Spanish colonialism was to make life orderly to achieve moral virtue, medical health, and physical prosperity. This ordering also included colonial palates, but exactly what place new substances and flavors were to occupy was uncertain and contested. During the first few decades of the Spanish invasion of Guatemala, Spanish chroniclers described the regionally distinctive concoctions of cacao, one of which was chocolate. Regional identity was intimately bound with cuisine. Chocolate rose to a universal truth -- familiar, evocative and expressive -- only after it was disembedded from its particularistic origins. European sources place chocolate within a universalist dream for prosperity, knowledge, and freedom. Yet chocolate also narrowed considerably in terms of taste, use, and appearance.

The raw friction of this change was rooted in the dilemmas of difference and appropriation: European materials depict enthusiasm and disquietude, while indigenous ones lament and subvert the economic, physical, and political violence of producing and consuming cacao. Eating and drinking what eventually was called chocolate was not just a symbolic act of colonial power; cacao production, distribution, and consumption involved numerous acts of violence, coercion, and cruelty. In this way, consumption was a total solution to the dilemma of colonialism -- how to subsume others (their lives, their labor, their substances) while at the same time holding them as separate ethnicities and tastes. The power and politics of chocolate created structural violence through systematic, exclusive arrangements of space, daily living and laboring conditions, and access to resources. It is no accident nor part of its "natural" qualities that we think of chocolate as dark, rich, and sinful; these are legacies of its colonial past, a productive friction rooted in violence.

Dr. Kathryn Sampeck is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Illinois State University. She earned her B.A. and M.A. from the University of Chicago and her Ph.D. from Tulane University. Her research focuses on the archaeology and ethnohistory of Spanish colonialism, Mesoamerican literacy and writing, the social history of commodities such as cacao, and how to detect political, social, and economic relationships in archaeological landscapes. Sampeck has been awarded fellowships by the John Carter Brown Library and the John D. Rockefeller Library, Colonial Williamsburg as well as grants by the National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Social Science Research Council, Fulbright program, and Cherokee Preservation Foundation. Her publications include articles in the International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Mesoamerica, Ancient Mesoamerica, and La Universidad, as well as forthcoming works in American Antiquity, Historical Archaeology, and Ethnohistory.