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The politics of the potato in the 19th century

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Over the 19th century potatoes became deeply embedded in arguments about the merits of capitalism. Political radicals condemned potatoes as a tool of exploitation. Advocates of free trade denounced them as an obstacle to economic rationality (Ireland being a prime example), and nutritionists investigated the deleterious effects of ‘sluggish potato blood’ on the urban proletariat’s productivity. This talk sketches out the ways in which potatoes, and the everyday eating practices of working people, became entangled in debates about industrialisation and economic change in 19th-century Europe, to show how talking about potatoes provided a way to talk about capitalism.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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