Kathryn Sampeck
Kathryn Sampeck

375 McKenzie Hall
1101 Kincaid St.
UO campus

A Talk by Dr. Kathryn Sampeck

These days, chocolate is a fairly unremarkable part of our daily lives. We have many ideas that we associate with it—what color it is, how it should taste, what kinds of foods it should be part of. All of these qualities seem natural, intrinsic. Little would you suspect that chocolate has a colonial past that involved some of the greatest horrors of Spanish America. The fresh view of chocolate’s history offered in this presentation draws from archaeology, notarial archives, and popular imagery and material culture to understand the complex connections of pre-Columbian origins and colonial incarnations of cacao production and commerce. The Izalcos region of colonial Guatemala, today’s western El Salvador, was the heartland of astronomical production of cacao, used both as a comestible (including chocolate) and colonial currency. Cacao was one of the first monocultural sources of wealth in the Spanish Empire, and for this reason, the Izalcos was one of the richest encomiendas in all the Indies and quickly became a key player in Atlantic legal and contraband commerce, even luring Sir Francis Drake there in 1579. The journey from these early colonial encounters with chocolate to the more modern experience of it has much to do with who produced chocolate, where, and when—in other words, labor relations in Latin America, local politics, and Atlantic World commerce, legal and illegal. The genesis of chocolate as we know it was rooted in corporeal and physical violence. It is a story of struggles against abuse and marginalization, covert and overt resistance, and victories both small and large despite changes in the political economy designed to thwart those very efforts. The social history of chocolate is truly bittersweet.

Dr. Kathryn Sampeck (A. B., A. M., University of Chicago, Ph.D. Tulane University) is an associate professor of anthropology at Illinois State University. Her research focuses on the archaeology and ethnohistory of Spanish colonialism in Mesoamerica and the U.S. Southeast. Sampeck has been awarded fellowships by the John Carter Brown Library and the John D. Rockefeller Library, Colonial Williamsburg as well as grants by the National Science Foundation, Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Social Science Research Council, Fulbright program, and Cherokee Preservation Foundation, and her publications include articles in American Antiquity, the International Journal of Historical Archaeology, Mesoamérica, Ancient Mesoamerica, and Journal of Latin American Geography, as well as forthcoming works in Historical Archaeology and Ethnohistory.