Disentangling commodity histories: Pauame and Sassafras in the early modern global world

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This article takes a close look at the history of an American tree now known as sassafras but known to the Timucua of early modern Florida as pauame. Sassafras root was a major anti-febrile medicament in the early modern world. The history of that medicament has thus far primarily been written in terms of the Spanish empire, which commodified it in post-contact Eurasia. Yet Native Americans, in particular the Timucua, as well as the French, the British, and the Russians, all played major roles in the history of sassafras. That history involves several objects derived from the tree sometimes called sassafras, knowledge about those objects, and Eurasian ideas about the Americas. This article focuses on the issues of entangled empires, and commodity and knowledge exchanges, to show that early modern commodities were not unitary objects, but rather shifting entanglements of objects, words, and ideas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Global History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2020


  • Entangled empires
  • Eurasia
  • Florida
  • Sassafras
  • Vast Early Americas

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

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