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Making Chocolate in the British Atlantic World: Foodways, Consumption, and Heritage


  • Durham University
  • Historic Royal Palaces
  • National Trust

This PhD studentship explores early modern chocolate between the late sixteenth and eighteenth centuries: where the ingredients for this drink were grown and harvested; how they were sourced and imported; who purchased them and at what price. It explores how ideas about chocolate, including its origins in First Nations (Native or Indigenous American) culture and its cultivation by enslaved women and men of African descent, influenced conceptions of race, nationality, and Black British history.

Despite the prevalence and popularity of chocolate in the period, surprisingly little has been done to trace either its patterns of consumption or the ways it was imagined, intellectually and iconographically. Ingredients for chocolate – which was consumed as a hot beverage flavoured with chilli, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and sugar – were sourced from around the globe, and the British public associated the drinks with exoticism and the ‘otherness’ of the empire, playing a key role in the ‘consumer revolution’ of the period.

To better understand the full nuance of chocolate’s presence and legacy in Britain, this is a project on the ‘long history’ of early modern chocolate, working in multiple archives and utilising many different types of historical evidence. This will include an investigation of the chocolate kitchens built at Hampton Court PalaceKew Palace (HRP) and Dyrham Park (NT) which attest to the drink’s importance in the period, and provide important information about its consumption and cultural circulation. Dyrham’s rich collections, which include a notable painting of a cacao tree dating from the late seventeenth century, will help us to better understand the reception and marketing of chocolate in the period.

Making Chocolate CDP details