Mapping Supply Chains for 19th Century Leather

Impression of a Buenos Aires slaughterhouse by Charles Pellegrini, 1829.

[First Published on the NiCHE Website] By Andrew Watson with Jim Clifford For the past two weeks I’ve been in Saskatoon, working with Jim Clifford in the University of Saskatchewan’s Historical Geographic Information Systems (HGIS) Lab. Since January 2014 I’ve been working with Jim and Colin Coates on the Trading Consequences research project thinking about how historians can use these valuable new text mining, database and visualization tools to understand the economic and environmental histories of global commodity flows during the nineteenth century. This trip to Saskatchewan has allowed Jim and I to focus our energies on using Trading Consequences for historical research. We used text-mined spatial data in conjunction with trade statistics and textual sources as a means of testing the search results and functionality of Trading Consequences. To do this, we chose a case study: the history of leather tanning related commodities during the nineteenth century.

Neckinger Leather Mills  Wellcome Images on Flickr Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK

Neckinger Leather Mills Wellcome Images on Flickr Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 UK

We chose leather tanning for our case study because this topic intersects with both our research interests. Jim is interested in how industrial development across London, including the leather district of Bermondsey, contributed to broader environmental transformations through the development of global commodity flows. Part of my recently completed doctoral research examined the economic and environmental dimensions of hemlock bark harvesting for leather tanneries in Muskoka, Ontario during the same time period. Trading Consequences provides the opportunity to learn more about the ways tanneries in Muskoka and London functioned as part of transnational networks in hides, tannins and leather. Apart from some primary and secondary source background reading, our work over these initial two weeks of research on this project focused almost exclusively on exploring nineteenth century trade statistics for Britain and, to a lesser extent, the United States. Theses statistics came mainly from the Annual Statement of the Trade of the United Kingdom with Foreign Countries and British Possessions, which the HGIS Lab’s research assistant, Stephen Langlois, entered into a Commodity Flows database. With the help of Jon Bath, Director of the Digital Research Centre at U Sask, Jim and I exported the statistics from the Commodity Flows database to create spreadsheets, graphs and maps, which we used to help us understand broad patterns and trends in the global trade of leather tanning commodities during the nineteenth century. One of the tools we used to start to get a sense of the transnational connections of these commodities is, a web-based supply chain mapping service, that allows users to generate maps populated with directional flow information. Using the information from the Commodity Flows database related to where commodities originated as well as their destination, Jim created four maps representing the flow of leather tanning related commodities at different points in the nineteenth century.

Read More on the NiCHE Website

Official Launch of Trading Consequences!

Today we are delighted to officially announce the launch of Trading Consequences!

Over the course of the last two years the project team have been hard at work to use text mining, traditional and innovative historical research methods, and visualization techniques, to turn digitized nineteenth century papers and trading records (and their OCR’d text) into a unique database of commodities and engaging visualization and search interfaces to explore that data.

Today we launch the database, searches and visualization tools alongside the Trading Consequences White Paper, which charts our work on the project including technical approaches, some of the challenges we faced, and what and how we have achieved during the project. The White Paper also discusses, in detail, how we built the tools we are launching today and is therefore an essential point of reference for those wanting to better understand how data is presented in our interfaces, how these interfaces came to be, and how you might best use and interpret the data shared in these resources in your own historical research.

Find the Trading Consequences searches, visualizations and code via the panel on the top right hand side of the project website (outlined in orange).

Find the Trading Consequences searches, visualizations and code via the panel on the top right hand side of the project website (outlined in orange).

There are four ways to explore the Trading Consequences database:

  1. Commodity Search. This performs a search of the database table of unique commodities, for commodities beginning with the search term entered. The returned list of commodities is sorted by two criteria (1) whether the commodity is a “commodity concept” (where any one of several unique names known to be used for the same commodity returns aggregated data for that commodity); or (2) alphabetically. Read more here.
  2. Location Search. This performs a search of the database table of unique locations, for locations beginning with the search term entered. The returned list of locations is sorted by the frequency that the search term is mentioned within the historical documents. Selecting a location displays: information about the location such as which country it is within, population etc; A map highlighting the location with a map marker; A list of historical documents and an indication of how many times the selected location is mentioned within each document. Read more here.
  3. Location Cloud Visualization. This shows the relation between a selected commodity and its related location. The visualization is based on over 170000 documents from digital historical archives (see list of archives below).The purpose of the visualization is to provide a general overview of how the importance of location mentions in relation to a particular commodity changed between 1800 and 1920. Read more here.
  4. Interlinked Visualization. This provides a general overview of how commodities were discussed between 1750 and 1950 along geographic and temporal dimensions. They provide an overview of commodity and location mentions extracted from 179000 historic documents (extracted from the digital archive listed below). Read more here.

Please do try out these tools (please note that the two visualizations will only work with newer versions of the Chrome Browser) and let us know what you think – we would love to know what other information or support might be useful, what feedback you have for the project team, how you think you might be able to use these tools in your own research.

Image of the Start page of the Interlinked Visualization.

Start page of the Interlinked Visualization.

We are also very pleased to announce that we are sharing some of the code and resources behind Trading Consequences via GitHub. This includes a range of Lexical Resources that we think historians and those undertaking historical text mining in related areas, may find particularly useful: the base lexicon of commodities created by hand for this project; the Trading Consequences SKOS ontology; and an aggregated gazeteer of ports and cities with ports.

Bea Alex shares text mining progress with the team at an early Trading Consequences meeting.

Bea Alex shares text mining progress with the team at an early Trading Consequences meeting.


The Trading Consequences team would like to acknowledge and thank the project partners, funders and data providers that have made this work possible. We would particularly like to thank the Digging Into Data Challenge, and the international partners and funders of DiD, for making this fun, challenging and highly collaborative transatlantic project possible. We have hugely enjoyed working together and we have learned a great deal from the interdisciplinary and international exchanges that has been so central to to this project.

We would also like to extend our thanks to all of those who have supported the project over the last few years with help, advice, opportunities to present and share our work, publicity for events and blog posts. Most of all we would like to thank all of those members of the historical research community who generously gave their time and perspectives to our historians, to our text mining experts, and particularly to our visualization experts to help us ensure that what we have created in this project meets genuine research needs and may have application in a range of historical research contexts.

Image of the Trading Consequences Project Team at our original kick off meeting.

Image of the Trading Consequences Project Team at our original kick off meeting.

What next?
Trading Consequences does not come to an end with this launch. Now that the search and visualization tools are live – and open for anyone to use freely on the web – our historians Professor Colin Coates (York University, Canada) and Dr Jim Clifford (University of Saskatchewan) will be continuing their research. We will continue to share their findings on historical trading patterns, and environmental history, via the Trading Consequences blog.

Over the coming months we will be continuing to update our publications page with the latest research and dissemination associated with the project, and we will also be sharing additional resources associated with the project via GitHub, so please do continue to keep an eye on this website for key updates and links to resources.

We value and welcome your feedback on the visualizations, search interfaces, the database, or any other aspect of the project, website or White Paper at any point. Indeed, if you do find Trading Consequences useful in your own research we would particularly encourage you to get in touch with us (via the comments here, or via Twitter) and consider writing a guest post for the blog. We also welcome mentions of the project or website in your own publications and we are happy to help you to publicize these.

Image of Testing and feedback at CHESS'13.

Testing and feedback at CHESS’13.

Explore Trading Consequences

Comparing Apples with Oranges

This Friday we will officially launch Trading Consequences this Friday (21st March), with publication of our White Paper and the launch of our visualization and search tools. Ahead of the launch we wanted to give you some idea of what you will be able to access, what you might want to view and what you might want to compare with these new historical research tools. Professor Colin Coates has been exploring the possibilities… 

The “Trading Consequences� website literally allows us to compare apples and oranges.  Both fruits became the objects of substantial international trade in the nineteenth century, as in the right conditions they can remain edible despite being shipped great distances.

Screen shot of a visualisation of Apple Trades

They are complementary fruits in many ways, as apples are grown in temperate climates whilst oranges prefer warmer conditions.  They may overlap geographically, but typically we associate different parts of the world with each fruit.  In the context of the British world, apples grew in the United Kingdom, of course, but they also came from Canada, New Zealand and the United States, among other locations.  Oranges from places like Spain, Florida or Latin America entered the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century.  The two maps which result from entering “apple� and “orange� into the database show, at a glance, how oranges appeared more often in reference to warmer zones than apples.

Screen shot of a visualisation of Orange Trades

The chronological distribution of commodity mentions was roughly similar in both cases.  Increased attention from 1880 to 1900 reflects in part the expansion of the documentation in that period, but it likely also reflected growth in trade and consumption.  Historian James Murton has pointed out that regular trade in apples developed from Canada to Great Britain in the 1880s, focused primarily in Nova Scotia.  On average, one million bushels of apples reached British markets (Murton, 2012).

In contrast, both apples and oranges show sudden spikes in the 1830s, for entirely different reasons.  The spike for apples points the researcher to a useful “Report from the Selection Committee on the Fresh Fruit Trade� in 1839.  But the mid-1830s spike in oranges points instead to the activities of Orange Lodges in Ireland.  The other visualisation shows this anomaly even more clearly, as IRELAND takes on a prominence in related geographical terms in the 1830s that it did not occupy afterwards.

Screenshot of Visualisation looking at trades in the 1830s

This project entailed teaching computers to read as an historian might, and there are distinct advantages to being able to deal with such a wide range of documentation.  However, all historians must be critical of the sources we use. The visualisations in “Trading Consequences� point towards useful sources for further study, and to suggest that historian may wish to consider some regions in their analysis.  The importance of the United States in the discussions about apples is noteworthy, for instance.  Australia has a large number of mentions of oranges, though it is important to note that a small city boasts the same name and could account for part of the number.  (Interestingly enough, Orange, New South Wales, did not grow many oranges according to the Australian Atlas 2006! But it does have apples.)

"Fruit" by Flickr user Garry Knight / garryknight

“Fruit” by Flickr user Garry Knight / garryknight

The increase in mentions of both apples and oranges from the 1880s on may reflect improving living standards in Britain in that period.  Britain’s decision to adopt free trade had led to an increase in a wide variety of imported foodstuffs (Darwin, 2009).  As the heightened attention to both apples and oranges probably shows, these fruits were part of that movement.

The “Trading Consequences� visualisations show some instructive comparisons, some that may point to different ways to conceive of trade in these resources, and others which illustrate the care with which researchers should approach results.


  • John Darwin, The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830-1970 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  •  James Murton, “John Bull and Sons: The Empire Marketing Board and the Creation of a British Imperial Food Systemâ€� in Franca Iacovetta et al., eds., Edible Histories, Cultural Politics: Towards a Canadian Food History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2012), 234-35.
  • New South Wales Government, Agriculture – Fruit and Vegetables in the Atlas of New South Wales, Available from:

Text Mining 19th Century Place Names

By Jim Clifford

Nineteenth century place names are a major challenge for the Trading Consequences project. The Edinburgh Geoparser uses the Geonames Gazetteer to supply crucial geographic information, including the place names themselves, their longitudes and latitudes, and population data that helps the algorithms determine which “Toronto” is most likely mentioned in the text (there are a lot of Torontos). Based on the first results from our tests, the Geoparser using Geonames works remarkably well. However, it often fails for historic place names that are not in the Geonames Gazetteer. Where is “Lower Canada” or the “Republic of New Granada“? What about all of the colonies created during the Scramble for Africa, but renamed after decolonization? Some of these terms are in Geonames, while others are not: Ceylon and Oil Rivers Protectorate. Geonames also lacks many of the regional terms often used in historical documents, such as “West Africa” or “Western Canada”.

To help reduce the number of missed place names or errors in our text mined results, we asked David Zylberberg, who did great work annotating our test samples, to help us solve many of the problems he identified. A draft of his new Gazetteer of missing 19th century place names is displayed above. Some of these are place names David found in the 150 page test sample that the prototype system missed. This includes some common OCR errors and a few longer forms of place names that are found in Geonames, which don’t totally fit within the 19th century place name gazetteer, but will still be helpful for our project. He also expanded beyond the place names he found in the annotation by identifying trends. Because our project focuses on commodities in the 19th century British world, he worked to identify abandoned mining towns in Canada and Australia. He also did a lot of work in identifying key place names in Africa, as he noticed that the system seemed to work in South Asia a lot better than it did in Africa. Finally, he worked on Eastern Europe, where many German place names changed in the aftermath of the Second World War. Unfortunately, some of these location were alternate names in Geonames and by changing the geoparser settings, we solved this problem, making David’s work on Eastern Europe and a few other locations redundant.  Nonetheless, we now have the beginnings of a database of  place names and region names missing from the standard gazetteers and we plan to publish this database in the near future and invite others to use and add to it. This work is at an early stage, so we’d be very interested to hear from others about how they’ve dealt with similar issues related to text-mining historical documents.

Invited talk on Digital History and Big Data

Last week I was invited to give talk about Trading Consequences at the Digital Scholarship: day of ideas event 2 organised by Dr. Siân Bayne.  If you are interested in my slides, you can look at them here on Slideshare.

Rather than give a summary talk about all the different things going on in the Edinburgh Language Technology Group at the School of Informatics, we decided that it would more informative to focus on one specific project and provide a bit more detail without getting too technical.  My aim was to raise our profile with attendees from the humanities and social sciences in Edinburgh and further afield who are interested in digital humanities research.  They made up the majority of the audience, so this talk was a great opportunity.

My presentation on Trading Consequences at the Digital Scholarship workshop (photo taken by Ewan Klein).

Most of my previous presentations were directed to people in my field, so to experts in text mining and information extraction.  So this talk would have to be completely different to how I would normally present my work which is to provide detailed information on methods and algorithms, their scientific evaluation etc.  None of the attendees would be interested in such things but I wanted them to know what sort of things our technology is capable of and at the same time let them understand some of the challenges we face.

I decided to focus the talk on the user-centric approach to our collaboration in Trading Consequences, explaining that our current users and collaborators (Prof. Colin Coates and Dr. Jim Clifford, environmental historians at York University, Toronto) and their research questions are key in all that we design and develop.  Their comments and error analysis feed directly back into the technology allowing us to improve the text mining and visualisation with every iteration.  The other point I wanted to bring across is that transparency in the quality of the text mining is crucial to our users, who want to know to what level they can trust the technology.  Moreover, the output of our text mining tool in its raw XML format is not something that most historians would be able to understand and query easily.  However, when text mining is combined with interesting types of visualisations, the data mined from all the historical document collections becomes alive.

We are currently processing digitised versions of over 10 million scanned document images from 5 different collections amounting to several hundred gigabytes worth of information.  This is not big data in the computer science sense where people talk about terrabytes or petabytes.  However, it is big data to historians who in the best case have access to some of these collections online using keyword search but often have to visit libraries and archives and go through them manually.  Even if a collection is available digitally and indexed, it does not mean that all the information relevant to a search term is easily accessible users.  In a large proportion of our data, the optical character recognised (OCRed) text contains a lot of errors and, unless corrected, those errors then find their way into the index.  This means that searches for correctly spelled terms will not return any matches in sources which mention them but with one or more errors contained in them.

The low text quality in large parts of our text collections is also one of our main challenges when it comes to mining this data.  So, I summarised the types of text correction and normalisation steps we carry out in order to improve the input for our text mining component.  However, there are cases when even we give up, that is when the text quality is just so low that is impossible even for a human being to read a document.  I showed a real example of one of the documents in the collections, the textual equivalent of an up-side-down image which was OCRed the wrong way round.

At the end, I got the sense that my talk was well received.  I got several interesting questions, including one asking whether we see that our users’ research questions are now shaped by the technology when the initial idea was for the technology to be driven by their research.  I also made some connections with people in literature, so there could be some exciting new collaborations on the horizon.  Overall, the workshop was extremely interesting and very well organised and I’m glad than I had the opportunity to present our work.



From Cod to Cinchona: Creating a Bibliographic Database of Sources for the Trading Consequences Project

As part of our work with the Trading Consequences project, Jim Clifford and I have compiled a bibliographic database of secondary sources that focus on the environmental and economic effects of the nineteenth-century global commodity trade. This is no small task, since the historiography is as vast as the imperial networks that this project seeks to explore. In this post, I’ll explain how we went about creating the database.

Earlier this year, Jim created a preliminary database of sources that originated from his own research interests in the environmental history of the British Empire during the nineteenth century. Project members had included many of these sources in the Digging into Data funding application, so it made an obvious starting point for us.

Zotero was an easy choice of software for our database, and it offers a number of advantages. For example, users can create folders within the larger database so that entries can be categorized by descriptors such as geographic area and type of commodity analyzed within the text. The software also enables users to enter source entries by clicking on an icon within the web browser address bar, create notes for such entries, and share their work with others in a group. With the click of a few keys, Zotero easily converts these entries into a conventional bibliography, as we’ve done at the end of this post.

Screen capture of our database in Zotero. Note the various folders on the left and the list of sources in the middle.

During the summer, I joined the Trading Consequences project as a researcher. One of my tasks was to add sources to the existing database. My first strategy led me to survey existing bibliographies related to environmental history. For example, I used the Network in Canadian History and Environment’s (NiCHE) New Scholars Wiki that its members had created in 2008 in order to assist graduate students who needed to compile secondary sources for comprehensive exams in environmental history.

As any historical researcher will tell you, there’s gold in them footnotes. And it is no different with the process we employed to build our database. Key works on the environmental history of the British Empire – such as William Beinart and Lotte Hughes’ Environment and Empire (Oxford University Press, 2007) – served as excellent sources for us to identify further articles, edited collections, monographs, and theses.

My role as a researcher on the project has been to think about the northern North American side of the story, so I drew from my knowledge of Canadian history. Many books and articles immediately came to mind from my own years of study as a doctoral student. I then dug deeper by drawing from journal indexes like American History and Life as I continued to mine sources for further entries.

The bibliography presented below is a work in progress. Although we have considered all areas of the British Empire, much of the focus so far has been on Britain and Canada. There are certainly many more useful sources we haven’t yet included, so please feel free to make suggestions in the comment box below. Also, if you’d like access to the Zotero database, send Jim an email: jim.s.clifford gmail com.


Abbot, High J.E. “The Marketing of Live Stock in Canada.” M.A. thesis, University of Toronto, 1923.

Aitken, Hugh G. J. “Government and Business in Canada: An Interpretation.” Business History Review 38, no. 1 (Spring 1964): 4–21.

———. “Myth and Measurement: The Innis Tradition in Economic History.” Journal of Canadian Studies 12, no. 5 (December 1977): 96–105.

Allingham, Anne. Taming the Wilderness: The First Decade of Pastoral Settlement in the Kennedy District. Townsville: James Cook University of North Queensland, 1977.

Alpers, Edward A. Ivory and Slaves in East Central Africa: Changing Patterns of International Trade to the Later Nineteenth Century. London: Heinemann, 1975.

Anderson, David, and Richard H. Grove. Conservation in Africa: Peoples, Policies and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Anderson, Jennifer L. “Nature’s Currency: The Atlantic Mahogany Trade and the Commodification of Nature in the Eighteenth Century.” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 2, no. 1 (2004): 47–80.

Anderson, Virginia DeJohn. Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Anker, Peder. Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order in the British Empire, 1895-1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Ankli, Robert E., and Wendy Millar. “Ontario Agriculture in Transition: The Switch from Wheat to Cheese.” The Journal of Economic History 42, no. 1 (March 1982): 207–215.

Annett, Douglas Rudyard. British Preference in Canadian Commercial Policy. Canadian Institute of International Affairs. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1948.

Arnold, David. Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India. Stanford, CA: University of California Press, 1993.

Arnold, David, and Ramachandra Guha, eds. Nature, Culture, Imperialism: Essays on the Environmental History of South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Arnold, David. Science, Technology and Medicine in Colonial India. The New Cambridge History of India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Arnold, David, ed. Imperial Medicine and Indigenous Societies. Studies in Imperialism. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988.

Ashley, John Myrick. “The Social and Environmental Effects of the Palm-Oil Industry in the Oriente of Ecuador.” Latin American Institute (1987).

Baer, Gabriel. A History of Landownership in Modern Egypt, 1800-1950. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Bair, Jennifer, ed. Frontiers of Commodity Chain Research. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.

Baker, D.E.U. Colonialism in an Indian Heartland. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Bantjes, Rod. Improved Earth: Prairie Space As Modern Artefact, 1869-1944. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005.

Barbier, Edward B. Scarcity and Frontiers: How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Barnard, Alan. The Australian Wool Market, 1840-1900. Carlton, Victoria: Melbourne University Press, 1958.

Barton, Gregory A. “Empire Forestry and the Origins of Environmentalism.” Journal of Historical Geography 27, no. 4 (October 2001): 529–552.

Barton, Gregory Allen. Empire Forestry and the Origins of Environmentalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Bavington, Dean. Managed Annihilation: An Unnatural History of the Newfoundland Cod Collapse. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010.

Beinart, William. “African History and Environmental History.” African Affairs 99 (2000): 269–302.

Beinart, William, and Peter A. Coates. Environment and History: The Taming of Nature in the USA and South Africa. London: Routledge, 1995.

Beinart, William, and Lotte Hughes. Environment and Empire. 1st ed. Oxford University Press, 2007.

Beinart, William. “Men, Science, Travel and Nature in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Cape.” Journal of Southern African Studies 24, no. 4 (December 1998): 775–99.

Beinart, William, and Karen Middleton. “Plant Transfers in Historical Perspective: A Review Article.” Environment and History 10 (2004): 3–29.

Beinart, William. The Rise of Conservation in South Africa: Settlers, Livestock, and the Environment 1770-1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Belich, James. Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Beloff, Max. Imperial Sunset. Vol. I: Britain’s Liberal Empire, 1897–1921. London: Methuen, 1969.

Bennett, Brett M. “The El Dorado of Forestry: The Eucalyptus in India, South Africa, and Thailand, 1850–2000.” International Review of Social History 55, no. S18 (2010): 27–50.

Berg, Maxine. “In Pursuit of Luxury: Global History and British Consumer Goods in the Eighteenth Century.” Past and Present 182 (2004): 85–142.

Bertram, Gordon W. “Economic Growth in Canadian Industry, 1870-1915: The Staple Model and the Take-Off Hypothesis.” Canadian Journal of Economics & Political Science 29, no. 2 (May 1963): 159–184.

Bhatia, B. M. Famines in India, 1850-1945. London: Asia Publishing House, 1963.

Blainey, Geoffrey. The Tyranny of Distance: How Distance Shaped Australia’s History. Vol. 2nd [?]. London: Macmillan, 2001.

Bliss, Michael. A Canadian Millionaire: The Life and Business Times of Sir Joseph Flavelle, Bart., 1858-1939. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1978.

———. “William Davies.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, 2000.

Bogue, Allan. “The Progress of the Cattle Industry in Ontario During the Eighteen Eighties.” Agricultural History 21 (July 1947).

Bogue, Margaret Beattie. Fishing the Great Lakes: An Environmental History, 1783-1933. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2000.

Bolton, Geoffrey. Spoils and Spoilers: A History of Australians Shaping Their Environment. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1992.

Bonnell, Jennifer Leigh. “Imagined Futures and Unintended Consequences: An Environmental History of Toronto’s Don River Valley”. Ph.D. dissertation, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, 2010.

Boomgaard, Peter, and Marjolein  ’T Hart. “Globalization, Environmental Change, and Social History: An Introduction.” International Review of Social History 55, no. S18 (2010): 1–26.

Bordo, Michael D., Alan M. Taylor, and Jeffrey G. Williamson, eds. Globalization in Historical Perspective. University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Bothwell, Robert, Ian Drummond, and John English. Canada 1900-1945. University of Toronto Press, 1990.

Bourn, David, Robin Reid,, David Rogers, Bill Snow, and William Wint. Environmental Change and the Autonomous Control of Tsetse and Trypanosomosis in Sub-Saharan Africa. Oxford: Oxford Environmental Research Group, 2001.

Bowman, Alan K., Eugene Rogan, and Ghislaine Alleaume, eds. “An Industrial Revolution in Agriculture? Some Observations on the Evolution of Rural Egypt in the Nineteenth Century.” In Agriculture in Egypt from Pharaonic to Modern Times, 331–45. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Bowman, Alan K., Eugene Rogan, and Roger Owen, eds. “A Long Look at Nearly Two Centuries of Long Staple Cotton.” In Agriculture in Egypt from Pharaonic to Modern Times, 347–65. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Breen, David. The Canadian Prairie West and the Ranching Frontier, 1874-1924. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983.

Brewer, John, and Ray Porter, eds. Consumption and the World of Goods. London and New York: Routledge, 1994.

Brockway, Lucile H. “Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Gardens.” American Ethnologist 6, no. 3 (1979): 449–465.

Brockway, Ms Lucile H. Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Gardens. New ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Brownsey, Keith, and Michael Howlett. Canada’s Resource Economy in Transition: The Past, Present, and Future of Canadian Staples Industries. Toronto: Emond Montgomery Publications, 2008.

Bruce-Chwatt, L.J. “Cinchona and Its Alkaloids: 350 Years.” New York State Journal of Medicine 88, no. 6 (1988): 318–22.

Buckley, Kenneth. “The Role of Staple Industries in Canada’s Economic Development.” The Journal of Economic History 18, no. 4 (1958): 439–450.

Buckner, Phillip Alfred, and John G. Reid. The Atlantic Region to Confederation: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994.

Buller, Lillian. The Procurement of Quinine: A Case Study in Public Administration. Washington: s.n., 1976.

Burke III, Edmund, and Kenneth Pomeranz, eds. The Environment and World History. California World History Library 9. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

Burley, Kevin H. The Development of Canada’s Staples, 1867-1939: A Documentary Collection. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1970.

Busvine, James Ronald. Disease Transmission by Insects: Its Discovery and 90 Years of Effort to Prevent It. Berlin and London: Springer-Verlag, 1993.

Butlin, Noel George. Australian Domestic Product, Investment and Foreign Borrowing, 1861-1938/39. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962.

Butt, Renelle. “The Kettle Is Singin’ of Cod Liver Oil.” In Proceedings of the 17th Annual History of Medicine Days, 107–110, 2008.

Cadigan, Sean. Hope and Deception in Conception Bay: Merchant-Settler Relations in Newfoundland, 1785-1855. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995.

———. “The Moral Economy of the Commons: Ecology and Equity in the Newfoundland Cod Fishery, 1815-1855.” Labour / Le Travail 43 (Spring 1999): 9–42.

———. “The Staple Model Reconsidered: The Case of Agricultural Policy in Northeast Newfoundland, 1785-1855.” Acadiensis 21, no. 2 (Spring 1992): 48–71.

Cain, Louis P. “Ontario’s Industrial Revolution, 1847-1941.” Canadian Historical Review 69, no. 3 (1988): 300–307.

Cain, P. J., and Anthony G. Hopkins. British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion, 1688-1914. London: Longman, 2002.

Campbell, Judy. Invisible Invaders: Smallpox and Other Diseases in Aboriginal Australia, 1780-1880. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2002.

Cañizares-Esguerra, Jorge. “Iberian Colonial Science.” Isis 96, no. 1 (March 2005): 64–70.

Clarke, John. Land, Power, and Economics on the Frontier of Upper Canada. Kingston and Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2002.

Coe, Sophie Dobzhansky, and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2000.

Cohen, Marjorie Griffin. Women’s Work, Markets, and Economic Development in Nineteenth-Century Ontario. The State and Economic Life. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988.

Connell, John, and Richard Howitt, eds. Mining and Indigenous Peoples in Australasia. Sydney University Press, 1991.

Connor, John. The Australian Frontier Wars, 1788-1838. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2002.

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Gin and Tonic: A Short History of a Stiff Drink (from

Gin and Tonic, from Wikipedia

Jay Young was inspired to write an post on the historical background of a favourite summer drink while working as a Researcher with Trading Consequences:

The Gin and Tonic – what better a drink during the dog days of summer? Put some ice in a glass, pour one part gin, add another part tonic water, finish with a slice of lime, and you have a refreshing drink to counter the heat. But it is also steeped in the history of medicine, global commodity frontiers, and the expansion of the British Empire.

Let’s start with the gin. Although it is commonly known as the quintessential English spirit, the history of gin underlines the island’s connections to the outside world. The origin of gin – unlike the drink itself – is quite murky. Sylvius de Bouve, a sixteenth-century Dutch physician, is the individual associated with the development of gin. He created a highly-alcoholic medicinal concoction called Jenever. It featured the essential oils of juniper berries, which the physician believed could improve circulation and cure other ailments. The berry, deriving from a small coniferous plant, had long been treasured for its medicinal properties, including its use during the plague.

Some students of the spirit argue that English soldiers discovered it while fighting in Holland in the 1580s during the Dutch War of Independence, whereas others trace England’s gin tradition to the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). The English nicknamed the drink “Dutch courage,” but what stuck was gin, a derivation of the Flemish word genever.

Gin’s popularity grew in England after William of Orange had become King of England following the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Parliament exerted its superior authority by ousting from the throne the Catholic King James II. With William’s reign came high import duties on French brandy – the dominant hard liquor in England at the time. The English began to produce a gin at a low cost. As John Watney notes in Mother’s Ruin: A History of Gin, “[a] revolution in drinking habits, equal to or perhaps surpassing in importance the Glorious Revolution in politics, was about to occur.” Parliament ended the royal monopoly on spirit distilling within London and its surrounding area, and statutes promoted distillation from grain grown by English farmers.

Gin consumption exploded in England by the first half of the eighteenth century. London became the capital not only of a growing empire, but also the drinking of gin. The apparent rise in public drunkeness led to the “Gin Craze,” a moral panic in which elites began to worry about the amount of gin consumed by less-affluent classes. The British Parliament responded to the craze by enacting a series of laws starting in the 1730s that sought to curb the consumption of gin. Historians such as Jessica Warner have compared such policies to the war on drugs in more recent times. At first, British lawmakers imposed a stiff tax on gin, but this policy led to a flood of illegally-distilled gin. Riots against the law erupted in 1743. By 1751, the government changed their strategy to favour a policy that increased the operating costs of gin shops. The craze waned, although scholars argue that consumption declined because of rising grain prices, not government action. Nonetheless, gin remained a popular spirit in England.

“Gin Lane” (1751) by William Hogarth. Image from Wikipedia.

I’ve added one part gin to the glass, but what about the tonic? It too is rooted global relationships that stretch even farther than gin.

A key component of tonic water is quinine, an anti-malarial alkaloid from the bark of the cinchona tree. Indigenous to mountainous areas of South America, the tree is part of what historian Alfred Crosby has termed the “Columbian Exchange”: the transfer of humans, other animals, plants, germs, and ideas between Europe and the Americas.

The Quechua (Inca) peoples of Peru and Bolivia had long understood the cinchona tree’s ability to stop shivers in cold temperatures. Europeans first realized the value of the plant in fighting malaria during the seventeenth century, after the Spanish had conquered parts of South America. Two popular accounts explain the development. In one, the Countess of Chinchon, wife of the Spanish Viceroy of Peru, brought the bark to Spain during the 1640s after it had cured her of malaria in South America. In the other, a Jesuit missionary returned to Europe with the bark in 1632. No matter its origins, Europeans began to call ground cinchona bark “Countess’ powder,” “Jesuit’s powder,” or simply the “fever tree.” By the early nineteenth century, chemists had isolated quinine from cinchona bark. It formed an essential ingredient in tonic water.

Cinchona bark. Image from Wikipedia.

Adding gin to tonic water originated in India during the nineteenth century. In 1825, British officers began to mix gin with their daily ration of quinine tonic. After the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857 (or the “Indian Mutiny”), the British Crown took over the governance of India from the British East India Company and strengthened its presence on the subcontinent. The growing number of Brits residing in India by the late 1850s helps explain the increased demand for quinine and the rise in popularity of the gin and tonic.

The British Raj led to a greater concern for the health of the more and more British soldiers, colonial administrators, and families living in India. Control of the colony required the ability to fight the deadly disease of malaria, so Brits in India consumed rations of quinine in the form of “Indian tonic water.” They added gin to the liquid to cut its bitter taste (and probably also for an intoxicating effect).

But there is more to the story of tonic water and the British in India. Lucile Brockway has shown that control of cinchona – and thus quinine – was key to the expansion of European colonial powers during the nineteenth century in Asia and Africa. By mid-century, the cinchona-producing areas of South America had become independent republics. Cinchona, grown as wild stocks harvested by native communities, offered an important commodity for their economic development. In 1860 alone, South America exported around two million pounds of cinchona bark to Britain and the United States. European powers, namely the British and the Dutch, feared a South American monopoly on the product raised prices, so they smuggled the plant’s seeds back to Europe, created hybrid strains, and transferred cinchona to plantations in Asian colonies like Ceylon and Java. By century’s end, the Dutch controlled most of the cinchona trade.

Without a reliable, cheap source of quinine, European dominance during the nineteenth century would have been less likely in areas such as South Asia and Africa prone to malaria. Quinine, then, was an ingredient central to not only in the gin and tonic, but also the growth of European imperialism. As a British surgeon noted in 1897, “to England, with her numerous and extensive Colonial possessions, [the cinchona bark] is simply priceless; and it is not too much to say, that if portions of her tropical empire are upheld by the bayonet, the arm that wields the weapon would be nerveless but for Cinchona bark and its active principles.”

Tonic water found in stores today must contain only minimal amounts of quinine. Recently, a number of premium tonic waters have hit the market. These brands advertise their use of natural quinine (rather than synthetic forms) and their avoidance of high fructose corn syrup, which connoisseurs claim overpowers the bouquet of high-quality gin. One brand is even called Fever Tree – harkening back to the historical roots of the beverage (although its website relies on the language of danger and exploration reminiscent of the colonial era).

Of course the final component to the classic gin and tonic is a slice of lime, and it is also linked to disease prevention and European expansion. In 1747, British surgeon James Lind carried out an experiment on mariners aboard a Royal Navy ship. His findings illustrated that a lack of Vitamin C caused scurvy. By the late nineteenth century, Royal Navy ships provided a mandatory daily ration of limes for sailors to fight the disease (hence the British nickname “limey”).

So next time you sip a G n’ T, stop and think about the history in your glass.

Thanks to Christopher Wilton for his helpful comments on the development of gin.

Jay Young is an editor at He recently completed a PhD in history from York University.



Digging for Data in Archives

Since our last post the Trading Consequences team have been working with our identified and potential data providers to begin gathering digital data for the project.

As the various data providers were sending us millions of pages of text from digitized historical documents, I flew over to London to spend some time in the archives.

A major component of our Digging Into Data project will involve doing traditional historical research, in archives and using the digitized repositories, to provide a comparison between what the historians are able to find and what the data mining and visualization components discover. So I set about researching a few of the more interesting commodities flowing into London industry during the nineteenth century. This included archival records related to the palm oil trade in west Africa and records at Kew Gardens’ archives related to John Eliot Howard’s scientific investigations into cinchona and quinine. John Eliot was one of the “Sons” in Howard & Sons, who manufactured chemicals and drugs in Startford (near the site of the 2012 Olympics) throughout the nineteenth century. After photographing most of his papers at Kew, I also spent time at the London Metropolitan Archive, looking through the company records. It was at the LMA that I was reminded about the disappointments often associated with historical research. It turned out the single most interesting document listed in the archival holdings, a ledger listing the imports of cinchona bark throughout the middle of the century, had been destroyed at some point and a second document on their trade with plantations in Java is missing.

After collecting enough material to begin my study of the relationships between factories in the Thames Estuary and commodity frontiers in South America, Africa and India, I focused my final day in the archive on a set of sources that will directly assist with the data mining aspects of the project. I recorded four years of customs ledgers, which record the quantity, declared value and country of origin of the hundreds of different commodity categories imported into Britain (everything from live animals to works of art). This source will provide the foundation of the taxonomy of commodities that we will create over the next few months, which will then be used to mine the data. Moreover, these ledgers provide a good starting point for our research into Canada’s trade with Britain and we are recording the quantity and value of all the goods shipped across the Atlantic. Just in through the monotonous process of photographing a few thousand pages, the major changes between the early and late nineteenth century began to stand out. Not only were there a lot more commodities by the centuries’ end, but Britain was relying on far more countries to supply it with raw materials.