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Selling exotic plant products in Paris, 1670-1730

A Leverhulme Trust project led by Dr Emma Spary


 spary1In 1700, French commerce stood at a crossroads. As its maritime empire grew, the focus of its overseas trade shifted from the Old World to the New.

In 1700, France imported all its coffee from the Levant, but by 1750, it was a net exporter of colonial coffee to the Ottoman Empire. Over the same period, coffee changed from a medicament into a luxury beverage, just as the French metropolis and court were becoming renowned as the hub of European fashion.

This project explores the ways in which the uses and meaning of exotic plant remedies changed in France as colonialism, commerce and consumption transformed between 1670 and 1730.

Caught up in this process were different groups involved in selling, studying or just consuming the new foods and drugs reaching Europe from overseas. Urban merchants—apothecaries, grocers, distillers, perfumers—played a key role in trading, processing and interpreting exotic plant materials for an elite clientele.

Not only merchants, but also administrators, travellers, scientific and medical practitioners and consumers faced concerns about the implications of globalisation, changing patterns of national consumption, and the commercialisation of medicine, health and diet.spary2

The project draws upon cultural history, history of science and medicine, urban history, business history, court history and commodity history to follow the circulation of exotic plant materials through the intersecting domains of learned, elite and commercial culture in Paris and Versailles. 


Consumers of the Exotic: summary of a workshop in Cambridge, April 5-6, 2017