Sweetening the Pot: A History of Tea and Sugar in Northwest Africa, 1850-1960


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project examines the history of tea and sugar in Northwest Africa, beginning with the first major shipments of tea into the region in the 1850s and concluding with the end of colonial rule in the 1950s and 1960s. Although previous scholars have focused on how consumers across the region took up tea and sugar as new markers of social status in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this project argues that many more turned to tea and sugar as essential components of subsistence diets during periods of rapid economic, environmental, and political change. Sweetened tea provided necessary calories in the midst of European imperial interventions that encouraged the export of locally produced foodstuffs in exchange for imports like refined sugar. Northwest Africans adopted sugar and tea on their own terms and wove new webs of meaning around their consumption.