Commodity Histories: an online space for collaborative research

Feb 2012 - Mar 2013

The last decade has seen the emergence of digital history as an approach to investigating the past based on the new communication technologies of the internet age. Currently more advanced in North America, university-based digital history projects have slowly emerged in Britain, though little has been done so far in the realm of extra-European histories. Commodity Histories is the first digital project in the UK that will provide public access to a crucial dimension of the histories of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America.

The project is being developed as part of the British Academy-funded Commodities of Empire project in the Faculty of Arts which is a collaboration between Dr Sandip Hazareesingh and Dr Jonathan Curry-Machado and Professor Jean Stubbs from the University of London's Institute for the Study of the Americas. Commodity Histories is also part of the OU Digital Humanities research programme and the development and use of the website will contribute significantly to its key objective of exploring how the use of digital technologies is transforming the research process.

The project's essential objectives are to

  • Raise public awareness of the histories and cultures of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America via their crucial role in the growing of crops and the production of commodities, that have contributed significantly to the making of the modern world and have become an indispensable aspect of people's daily lives throughout the world;
  • Enable scholars both within and beyond academia to share research information, source materials, works-in-progress, with a view to developing new online collaborations;
  • Produce insights on the use of digital technologies and their implications in relation to collaborative processes, open access, and to how 'differently' they enable the past to be experienced.

Commodity Histories is led by Dr Sandip Hazareesingh, and the website designer is Mr John Levin.


The project is planning three networking events:

  • An initial two-day international workshop for invited participants in September 2012 to explore the issues and challenges of designing a collaborative research web space;
  • An end-of-project workshop in February 2013 to explore the potential use of the website for collaborations between researchers from universities, museums and NGOs;
  • A public launch of the website at The Open University later in 2013.


Sandip Hazareesingh is Lecturer in History at The Open University. He is particularly interested in historical perspectives on the production of socio-environments by interacting human and non-human actors and is currently researching the interactions between cotton production and climate in colonial western India.