Chocolate, women and empire

A social and cultural history

Author: Emma Robertson

Chocolate remains a mythic product, a symbol both of luxury and of a fantasy world of exoticism, yet also (for many) a workaday requirement providing energy and nutrition. This book concentrates on three key stages of chocolate production in the British empire: growing cocoa beans, manufacturing chocolate from these beans, and the marketing of chocolate products. It begins with the romantic construction of chocolate, redresses the gender imbalance of many existing Rowntree histories and values women's own interpretations of their working lives. The analysis of advertising establishes connections and tensions between the worlds of production and consumption, with an attention to gender and class, and to cultural characteristics. The book tackles imperial histories of chocolate and how British firms, including Rowntree, constructed their own romantic narratives of the 'discovery' and development of chocolate production. It focuses on Nigerian women farmers who have always been active agents in cocoa production, despite having to struggle against the often intersecting structures and ideologies of colonialism, capitalism and patriarchy. The book explores the ways in which Rowntree created and reflected particular understandings of the historic city of York and of empire, through media such as their in-house journal, 'Cocoa Works Magazine'. It provides the oral histories of women factory workers, including that of a Chinese girl, and their experiences of gendered and raced labour in chocolate manufacture.

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