Spice Trade Analysis

997 Words4 Pages
The majority of historical literature on the spice trade in late–medieval Europe examines the pivotal role spices had in stimulating Western Europeans to explore and establish colonial enterprises. Paul Freedman proposes to focus on the demand side, on "why spices were so popular in the first place, why they were sufficiently sought after for traders to bring them to Europe from what seemed the farthest corners of the world." This paper will argue that Paul Freedman follows the advice given by Storey and Jones provided in Writing History. His arguments for the scarcity and value of spices are the prices, demand, and the means by which they were harvested. He provides details on how the spice trade worked in the Middle Ages, how lack of knowledge of and control over their sources whetted Europeans' desire to eliminate middlemen, and how voices raised against conspicuous consumption of spices had little effect on their use. Having established how and why Europeans were so eager to pay high prices for an enormous variety of spices, Freedman then retells the story of how government-backed expeditions set out to find and gain control of sources through exploration and conquest. Freedman also writes about the decline in demand for spices in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and their disappearance from world trade as commodities that countries would go to war in order to control. While previewing his main arguments in the introductory, Freedman quickly dispenses with conventional knowledge that spices were popular in the Middle Ages because they helped preserve meat and cover up spoilage. He notes that salting, pickling, smoking, or air-curing were much more effective means of preservation. More importantly, the price of spices... ... middle of paper ... ...al cookbooks might profitably have been compared to the moderation usually counseled in regimens of health, a genre of medieval text that was more common than cookbooks. Finally, Freedman often refers to contemporary phenomena as analogs to the points he is making. These are sometimes humorous but they also serve to make serious points. Such examples effectively bring the dynamic at the basis of the relationship between the attractiveness of spices and their rarity in pre-modern Europe home to the reader. On balance, Freedman has written a masterful synthesis of research from many different branches of economic, social, political, and textual history. Occasionally, some of the detail from particular texts makes for slow going, but the reader is ultimately rewarded with additional insights and with an overall perspective that makes it worthwhile to continue reading.
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