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Sacred gifts, profane, pleasures - Marcy Norton

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Sacred gifts, profane, pleasures - a history of tobacco and chocolate in the Atlantic world
Marcy Norton
Paperback / softback
Cornell University Press
UK Publication Date

Before Columbus's fateful voyage in 1492, no European had ever seen, much less tasted, tobacco or chocolate. Initially dismissed as dry leaves and an odd Indian drink, these two commodities came to conquer Europe on a scale unsurpassed by any other American resource or product. A fascinating story of contact, exploration, and exchange in the Atlantic world, Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures traces the ways in which these two goods of the Americas both changed and were changed by Europe.

Focusing on the Spanish Empire, Marcy Norton investigates how tobacco and chocolate became material and symbolic links to the pre-Hispanic past for colonized Indians and colonizing Europeans alike. Botanical ambassadors of the American continent, they also profoundly affected Europe. Tobacco, once condemned as proof of Indian diabolism, became the constant companion of clergymen and the single largest source of state revenue in Spain. Before coffee or tea became popular in Europe, chocolate was the drink that energized the fatigued and uplifted the depressed. However, no one could quite forget the pagan past of tobacco and chocolate, despite their apparent Europeanization: physicians relied on Mesoamerican medical systems for their understanding of tobacco; theologians looked to Aztec precedent to decide whether chocolate drinking violated Lenten fasts.

The struggle of scientists, theologians, and aficionados alike to reconcile notions of European superiority with the fact of American influence shaped key modern developments ranging from natural history to secularization. Norton considers the material, social, and cultural interaction between Europe and the Americas with historical depth and insight that goes beyond the portrayal of Columbian exchange simply as a matter of exploitation, infection, and conquest.

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Marcy Norton is Associate Professor of History at George Washington University. She is the Associate Editor of Tobacco in History and Culture: An Encyclopedia.

"Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures shows how the exchange between alien civilizations prefigured a revolution in taste that was both genuinely global and largely independent of the power dynamics of colonialism.... Norton creatively uses a wide range of sources, from Mayan artwork to early modern medical manuals to Inquisition records, to show how two frequently consumed substances were integrated into European consciousness and diet."

Times Literary Supplement - Gabriel Paquette

"In documenting the reception of chocolate and tobacco among Europeans, Norton gives particular emphasis to the social nature of consumption. Both products were intimately tied with indigenous rituals, although tobacco came to be viewed in a more negative light as diabolically inspired, while chocolate, the drink of indigenous lords, was associated with the emerging image of the noble savage. And it was through social interactions that Europeans acquired these cultural practices, notwithstanding their pagan connotations."

The Americas - Jeffrey M. Pilcher

"What does it really mean to consume tobacco or chocolate? The question should be central to recent historians' interest in consumption and the world of goods. Yet most of us attempt to answer by describing how or why an item was consumed. If it is a psychoactive substance like tobacco or chocolate, the answer will often dwell on its biological effects. Marcy Norton, in this ambitious and impressive book, also tries to locate these goods in the conceptual frameworks of the cultures that consumed them. Her history of tobacco and chocolate in the Atlantic world, from the Spanish encounter through the seventeenth century, provides a fascinating model of how historians can look at and listen to consumption."

Journal of Social History - Tom Brennan

"Norton eloquently describes the 'contact zones' in the New World where chocolate was consumed, as in marriage celebrations, village markets, and in religious establishments, while also discussing the sixteenth-century worries about persistent Indian idolatry or religious backsliding from conversion that set the scene for theological directives against European use of tobacco and chocolate. She is on still firmer ground in assigning to early Spanish-native encounters the origin of what was to become a lasting trope among Europeans: tobacco's association with barbarism, chocolate's with effete civilization, and both with diabolism. The most interesting and sharply drawn parts of the study, in fact, deal with the sensual mythology and medical appreciations of these New World products-with the history of European perceptions of them, in other words.... The book realizes its broad ambition to portray the European romance with tobacco and chocolate both in the New World and the Old, and to do it in an eloquent and sophisticated way."

International History Review - Eric Van Young

"Rarely does religious history figure as prominently in a study of commodity culture as it does in Marcy Norton's Sacred Gifts, Profane Pleasures. The very title points to the central paradox at the heart of this book: tobacco and chocolate were used in Amerindian societies for primarily religious purposes before their contact with the Spanish and other European empires, but over the three centuries following first contact between the old world and the new, tobacco and chocolate came to be commodities that could be consumed as secularized luxury products. Norton's deeply researched and insightful work offers a salutary reminder that the Spanish and Portuguese empires were the first to encounter and assimilate exotic commodities such as tobacco and chocolate into their consumption repertoires."

Journal of American History - Brian Cowan

Keyword Index
Tobacco use - Latin America - History.|Tobacco use - Europe - History.|Tobacco industry - Latin America - History.|Tobacco industry - Europe - History.|Chocolate - Latin America - History.|Chocolate - Europe - History.|Chocolate industry - Latin America - History.|Chocolate industry - Europe - History.|Europe - Civilization - Latin American influences.|Latin America - Civilization - European influences.
Country of Publication
New York (State)
Number of Pages
xiv, 334

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