Please join us on Wednesday July 7 from noon–1pm for a virtual book launch of Oil Palm: A Global History (UNC Press) by Jonathan E. Robins (Associate Professor of History, Department of Social Sciences).
Oil palms are everywhere—grown in nearly every tropical country, they supply the world with more edible fat than any other plant and play a role in scores of packaged products, from lipstick and soap to margarine and cookies. And as Robins shows in this new book, sweeping social transformations carried the plant around the planet. First brought to the global stage in the holds of slave ships, palm oil became a quintessential commodity in the Industrial Revolution. Imperialists hungry for cheap fat subjugated Africa’s oil palm landscapes and the people who worked them. In the twentieth century, the World Bank promulgated oil palm agriculture as a panacea to rural development in Southeast Asia and across the tropics. As plantation companies tore into rainforests, evicting farmers in the name of progress, the oil palm continued its rise to dominance, sparking new controversies over trade, land and labor rights, human health, and the environment.
In this talk, Robins will provide an overview of the book and discuss his research process, which took him to archives and four continents—and finally back to historic collections on the shelves of Michigan Tech’s Van Pelt and Opie Library.