Sugar and Power | Newberry

Sugar and Power

Wednesday, March 10, 2021


The Newberry

Sarah Peters Kernan, Independent Scholar
Newberry Teachers' Consortium

Despite sugar’s ubiquity in the modern Western diet, it was once reserved as a medicinal ingredient for the wealthiest consumers. From the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century, sugar transformed from a rare luxury item to a commonplace ingredient, shaped by dramatic shifts in health, trade, and politics. Sugar became increasingly desirable in the early modern period as its consumption became essential in several new, caffeinated drinks: coffee, tea, and chocolate. The rise of sugar was also encouraged by the popularity of molasses, a byproduct of sugar processing, and rum, the distilled spirit made from it. Colonial structures and the exploitation of enslaved people facilitated the remarkable increase in sugar production and popularity. Through evaluation of sources pulled from literature, art, economic and political texts, maps, material goods, and recipes, many found within the Newberry Library’s own collections, we will delve into the history of sugar (c. 1100 to 1900), focusing on the connections between sugar consumption and production with social, economic, and political power.

Cost and Registration Information 

Newberry Teachers’ Consortium participants may register for this seminar through their designated school administration contact, as space permits. Individual educators without a subscription package at their home institution may register for this seminar by purchasing an individual seminar slot at the time of registration. Registration for all NTC seminars opens Friday, September 11, 2020. For more information about NTC subscription packages, please contact Cate Harriman, Teacher & Student Programs Coordinator, at

A link to the assigned pre-readings for the seminars, as well as instructions for logging onto the Zoom session, will be distributed to participants via email.

If you believe you are registered for this seminar but have not received an email confirmation or reminder, please contact Teacher Programs staff at