The Three Great Cities of Spice–Venice, Lisbon, and Amsterdam: A Three-Part Course with Michael Krondl

The Three Great Cities of Spice–Venice, Lisbon, and Amsterdam: A Three-Part Course with Michael Krondl


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In the fifteenth century, the globe was transformed because a tiny European elite happened to like the taste of Asian spices. To feed this culinary fashion three European cities made and lost fortunes, fought wars, and committed atrocities. The course explores the history of the three European ports that benefited most from the elite medieval and renaissance taste for exotic spices.

In Venice, Lisbon, and Amsterdam we virtually visit each city’s spice emporium, from the Rialto to Lisbon’s docks, to the warehouses of the Dutch East India Company. Each entrepot wrested a virtual spice monopoly from the other to supply both cooks and apothecaries with the Asian aromatics. The fashionable spices changed as did the manner of procuring them. Venice was little more than a middleman, purchasing pepper and other spices from middle-eastern merchants. Lisbon found a direct path to the South Asian sources building a necklace of trading posts around the world. The Dutch seized Indonesia’s spice islands with ruthless brutality ensuring a steady—and lucrative—supply of nutmeg and cloves to customers back home. Each section examines both demand (cuisine and medicine) as well as the supply (India, Ceylon, and the Spice Islands) and how all this led to a new globalized world.

Led by an expert on food and history, Michael Krondl, this course will explore how culinary fashion transformed the world. Designed to inform curiosity as well as future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the interrelationship of food, history, and place.

 

Lecture 1: Pepper on the Rialto–The Spice that Built Venice

When Medieval Europeans adopted Arab culinary tastes and medicine, they also embraced the exotic Asian spices that were essential to Middle Eastern culture. Our first lecture will focus on Venice, a city that eventually monopolized the trade in this precious commodity, building a pocket-sized empire to assure its profits.

Lecture 2: Sugar and Spice–The Rise and Fall of Lisbon

In search of “Christians and Spices,” in the words of Vasco da Gama, Portuguese sailors rounded the Cape of Good Hope, colonized Brazil and Africa, all in search of a direct route to the eastern spiceries. In the sixteenth century, they were not only Europe’s primary source of pepper but also of cinnamon, the “it” spice of every late Renaissance banquet.

Lecture 3: Gingerbread and Genocide–Amsterdam and the Dutch East India Company

With Amsterdam as the corporate headquarters, the Dutch East India company brutally usurped Portugal’s role as the west’s spice trader and the world’s most powerful global corporation. All this based on a gradually waning fashion for nutmeg and cloves.

Author Michael Krondl writes about food and history. He has penned several books, including The Taste of Conquest: The Rise and Fall of the Three Great Cities of Spices and Sweet Invention: A History of Dessert among others. He has edited and contributed to several Oxford University Press volumes on food and culture, including The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. He teaches at the New School and the City University of New York and has lectured at multiple venues including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, and San Francisco’s Exploratorium.

How does it work?

This is a three-part series held weekly and hosted on Zoom. Please check the schedule for the specific dates and times for each lecture.

Is there a reading list in advance?

Though the course is open to participants with no background in this topic there are suggested readings for further investigation. You will receive this soon after course registration.

How long are the lectures?

Each lecture is 90 minutes long with time for Q&A.

How much is the course?

The course is $105 for three lectures.

Is a recording available?

Yes. If you need to miss a lecture please let us know and we can arrange for a recording for that session on an individual basis.

This course is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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