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Abstract

This study tracks changes in how an identifiably Irish distilled liquor flowed through society in early modern Ireland. Ireland, as diagnostic grey area between colony and European state periphery, is a fruitful place to explore the intersection of colonialism and the emergence of capitalist economic forms. Ireland’s choice distillate, as a heavily processed consumable circulating throughout the island well before the English renewed their colonial interest there in the 16th century, is a perfect focus for research that explores how commodification—or the monetization of material circulations through marked and marketed spaces—has played into colonial projects. A historical archaeological approach has been taken that blends textual and archaeological data to trace changes over time in how this substance circulated within Irish society and through particular forms of hospitality there. These changes in circulation are contextualized within the concerns that colonial authors expressed towards the substance, and the attempts that colonial authorities made to intervene in its flow and in the broader material constitution of life in early modern Ireland. Overall, this study reveals the complex interplay of embodied material intimacies, social entanglements, political-economic ideology, and practical negotiation that drove such large-scale socio-economic historical processes as colonization and the spread of capitalist forms, but on a human scale concerned with the situated agency of individuals. It has revealed a more contingent history unfolding in Ireland, where the colonial project was constituted by human beings who brought materially-grounded bodily and socio-political anxieties with them that shaped the form colonial interventions took. It argues that what was an ostensibly economic transformation was driven by a complex network of colonial desires and anxieties that extended well beyond the profit motives presumed to have directed Europe’s outward expansion and what is often portrayed as its teleological march towards economic ‘modernity.’

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