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"The Riotous Use of this Strange Indian": The Politics of Tobacco Consumption in Early Modern London

Fri, April 1, 5:30 to 7:00pm, Park Plaza, Fourth Floor, Tremont Room

Abstract

Accusations of tobacco-smokers as ‘Indianized’, uncivil, and disorderly were a frequent refrain in early Stuart London. At the same time, tobacco consumption rose dramatically, as it would continue to do through the seventeenth century. This paper challenges the scholarly tendency to dismiss the state’s concerns over degeneration through smoking in the 1610s and 1620s as hypocritical or ineffective; tobacco presented a real problem for policy-makers precisely because the state was so imbedded in regulating the social order through an emphasis on civil behaviour and cultural conformity. Taking into account the English colonizing initiatives in Virginia at the time, it also argues that the concerted effort in the early 1620s to divorce smoking’s connotations of subversive ‘savagery’ from the possibilities of profit and industry led to a more sophisticated expression of political economy prior to the trade in other exotic goods like sugar, coffee, or chocolate.

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