Tobacco and the Making of Atlantic Italy, 1600-1700
Sharon Strocchia is Professor of History at Emory University. Her research has focused on women, family, and religion in Renaissance Italy, and on health and healing in the early modern world. Her publications include Death and Ritual in Renaissance Florence (1992); Nuns and Nunneries in Renaissance Florence (2009), which won the Marraro Prize from the American Catholic Historical Association; Forgotten Healers: Women and the Pursuit of Health in Late Renaissance Italy (2019); and two edited collections devoted to gender and premodern healthcare. Currently she is working on two books: one considers the medical marketplace in late Renaissance Italy, the other explores entanglements linking the Mediterranean and Atlantic worlds.
This project uses the globalization of tobacco as a through line for analyzing economic and cultural entanglements connecting the Mediterranean and Atlantic worlds in the seventeenth century. The early diffusion of tobacco as a global trade good represents both well-charted territory and terra incognita. First introduced to Europeans as a medicinal from the Americas, tobacco skyrocketed in popularity after 1620, when its recreational use became freighted with moral objections. Adopting a trans-imperial approach to the circulation of goods and peoples, the project examines the commercial circuits, mercantilist innovations, and technology transfers that sustained these new cultural habits in seventeenth-century Italy. Italian states established themselves as key brokers servicing secondary tobacco markets across the Mediterranean basin, in part by capitalizing on the business relationships and information networks cultivated by Sephardic Jews. The history of the early tobacco trade decenters the privileged position traditionally accorded to Atlantic-facing powers in the development of early modern capitalism, while also showcasing the role of non-state actors such as business consortia in shaping the political economy of Italian states.