Alpine Connections

Consuming and Trading Commodities from Atlantic Markets in the Southern Alps (1650-1850)

Riccardo E. Rossi

In a tradition dating back to the mid-eighteenth century, the Alps were described as a haven of simple but sincere people, never corrupted by a vanity, which was epitomized by the consumption of ‘exotic’ luxury, i.e., non-European goods. The few studies that deal with consumption in the early modern Alps have already exposed these representations as the imagination of urban upper classes. But while in recent years approaches of global history have emphasized the functions of cities as hubs of ideas, people and goods, the history of rural areas – where the majority of people lived in pre-industrial societies – remains too often a tale of enclosed peripheries. This sub-project challenges this historiographical perspective by examining how goods from Atlantic markets were traded and consumed between 1650 and 1850 in the Italian-speaking regions of the Old Swiss Confederacy and the Three Leagues – in rural and mountainous areas which were located on the margins of major dominions. Along which routes did Atlantic goods reach these valleys and what networks were crucial for this trade? Which social groups did what with which commodities? How did consumption change over time and what impact did this have on everyday life? These questions are examined on the basis of post-mortem inventories, mercantile correspondences, account books of innkeepers and peddlers, as well as medical and culinary recipes. On the one hand, this study aims to offer a quantitative analysis of consumption. On the other, it applies a micro-historical approach to explore the practices and strategies that have changed as a result of the consumption and trade of Atlantic commodities.

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