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Substance and Seduction

Substance and Seduction
Ingested Commodities in Early Modern Mesoamerica

This interdisciplinary anthology reveals how the consumption of seductive ingestibles, such as chocolate, pulque, and peyote, illuminates key linkages between colonization and commodification in Mesoamerica.

Series: William and Bettye Nowlin Endowment

November 2017
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240 pages | 6 x 9 | 20 b&w photos, 10 b&w illus., 5 b&w maps, 3 b&w charts/graphs |

Chocolate and sugar, alcohol and tobacco, peyote and hallucinogenic mushrooms—these seductive substances have been a nexus of desire for both pleasure and profit in Mesoamerica since colonial times. But how did these substances seduce? And when and how did they come to be desired and then demanded, even by those who had never encountered them before? The contributors to this volume explore these questions across a range of times, places, and peoples to discover how the individual pleasures of consumption were shaped by social, cultural, economic, and political forces.

Focusing on ingestible substances as a group, which has not been done before in the scholarly literature, the chapters in Substance and Seduction trace three key links between colonization and commodification. First, as substances that were taken into the bodies of both colonizers and colonized, these foods and drugs participated in unexpected connections among sites of production and consumption; racial and ethnic categories; and free, forced, and enslaved labor regimes. Second, as commodities developed in the long transition from mercantile to modern capitalism, each substance in some way drew its enduring power from its ability to seduce: to stimulate bodies; to alter minds; to mark class, social, and ethnic boundaries; and to generate wealth. Finally, as objects of scholarly inquiry, each substance rewards interdisciplinary approaches that balance the considerations of pleasure and profit, materiality and morality, and culture and political economy.

  • Foreword (Marcy Norton)
  • Preface (Stacey Schwartzkopf and Kathryn E. Sampeck)
  • Introduction: Consuming Desires in Mesoamerica (Kathryn E. Sampeck and Stacey Schwartzkopf)
  • Part I. Old Flames, New Loves
    • 1. Sandcastles of the Mind: Hallucinogens and Cultural Memory (Martin Nesvig)
    • 2. Alcohol and Commodity Succession in Colonial Maya Guatemala: From Mead to Aguardiente (Stacey Schwartzkopf)
    • 3. Translating Tastes: A Cartography of Chocolate Colonialism (Kathryn E. Sampeck and Jonathan Thayn)
  • Part II. Substantial Matters
    • 4. Real Tobacco for Real People: Nicotine and Lacandon Maya Trade (Joel W. Palka)
    • 5. Health Food and Diabolic Vice: Pulque Discourse in New Spain (Joan Bristol)
    • 6. “Confites, Melcochas y Otras Golosinas . . . Muy Dañosas”: Sugar, Alcohol, and Biopolitics in Colonial Guatemala (Guido Pezzarossi)
    • Afterword (Carla D. Martin)
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Conway, Arkansas

Schwartzkopf is the Charles S. and Lucile Esmon Shively Odyssey Associate Professor of Anthropology at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas.

Normal, Illinois

Sampeck is an associate professor of anthropology at Illinois State University and a nonresidential fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University.


“[A] wonderful addition to the growing literature on commodities, food, and drugs in Latin American history...evocative detail, beautifully construed narratives, and lucidly laid arguments.”
Hispanic American Historical Review

“[Substance and Seduction] breaks new ground in critical food studies...the many insights that the contributors provide in this bold volume should stimulate debate and produce new avenues of research for scholars of Mesoamerican and Latin American history and food studies.”

“This book opens a new field and poses new questions. It brings to bear a relatively broad number of commodities in an understudied regional context, which makes it unique.”
Jacqueline Holler, University of Northern British Columbia, author of Escogidas Plantas: Nuns and Beatas in Mexico City, 1531–1601


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