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The Spice Race: The West’s Enduring Obsession with Asia

Afternoon Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, August 8, 2024 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1NV095
This online program is presented on Zoom.
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Afonso de Albuquerque, viceroy of Portuguese India, 16th century (National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon)

In recent years U.S. officials have often talked about pivoting to Asia to focus on China, India and the other vast markets of the world’s most populous continent. In reality, a Western obsession with Asia and its products has motivated global politics for more than half a millennium.

Starting in the 15th century, Europeans first embarked on dangerous maritime voyages to reach Asia. The Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, and British competed to acquire pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, and other spices, as well as porcelain, silks, tea, and other treasures from Asia.

The great names of Western exploration—Vasco de Gama, Columbus, Magellan, and the many who followed—were driven not to discover new lands, but to find new and faster routes to India, China, and other Asian sources of alluring commodities.

In this quest to obtain goods from abroad, Europe built empires, established colonies, and left virtually no corner of the globe untouched. Writer and former foreign correspondent Adam Tanner examines why this central Western focus on Asia, often downplayed in the American narrative of modern history, is essential to understanding our world today.

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