The Past and Present of Sugar

Blue glass sugar bowl inscribed in gilt
Blue glass sugar bowl inscribed in gilt "EAST INDIA SUGAR / not made by / SLAVES", English, probably Bristol, 1820-1830 (detail) Size Height: 11 cm, diameter: 10 cm British Museum. Photo: Andreas Praefcke June 2011. Public domain


Sugar is one of the most important and dangerous commodities in both the history of the Atlantic and Pacific Worlds following the Columbian Encounter and in the state of contemporary public health. It is highly desired and has led to major improvements in the quality of life for people – what would life be like without dessert? Yet it has both a complicated history and a troubling present. Its links with the dark side of the Enlightenment – its past is ineluctably connected with slavery – and its troubled present – it is a major factor in substantial health related issues endemic in contemporary society – make it an ideal commodity to trace the Enlightenment’s ongoing presence in contemporary life.


Professor Trevor Burnard (University of Hull)

Professor Deirdre Coleman (University of Melbourne)

Associate Professor Matt Hopcraft (Dentistry, University of Melbourne)

Professor Rob Moodie (Population Health, University of Melbourne)