In Memoriam: Sidney W. Mintz

Sidney-Mintz

Last week, the field was saddened to learn of the passing of food historian Sidney Mintz at the age of 93. He died on December 26th after a fall. Born in Dover, New Jersey, in 1922, Mintz received his PhD in Anthropology from Columbia in 1951. He spent 24 years at Yale University before founding the Johns Hopkins University Anthropology Department in 1975. Mintz retired from Johns Hopkins in 1997.

A prodigious and productive ethnohistorian, Mintz’s earliest work focused on Puerto Rican sugar cane workers, eventually expanding his work to include Haiti and Jamaica. His scholarship encompassed slavery and global capitalism, cultural hybridity, Caribbean peasants, and the political economy of food commodities. Over his career, he published many books, continuing into his retirement. A number of them, including Caribbean Transformations and Caribbean Contours (co-edited with Sally Price) were staples of graduate seminars and comprehensive exams. His best known book, and probably his most influential, was Sweetness and Power: the Place of Sugar in Modern History (1986). In it, Mintz demonstrated how sugar could be used to explore social connections and human behavior. In his own words, Mintz said that he’d become fascinated “by the power of a single taste, and the concentration of brains, energy, wealth and—most of all, power—that had led to its being supplied to so many, in such stunningly large quantities, and at so terrible a cost in life and suffering.”[1] Much of the rest of his work was colored by themes of capitalism, commodity, race, and colonization. His last book, Three Ancient Colonies: Caribbean Themes and Variations was published in 2010, based on lectures he gave at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute.

Mintz received a number of recognitions for his work. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1958. He was President of the American Ethnographic History Association from 1968-1969, and a fellow of the American Anthropological Association and the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. He held two Fulbright Senior Research Awards from 1966-1967 and 1970-1971. He received a William Clyde DeVane Medal from Yale University in 1972 and was a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1978. Johns Hopkins established the Annual Sidney Mintz Lecture in his honor in 1992. In 2012, the American Anthropological Association presented him with the Franz Boas Award for exemplary service to the field of Anthropology. He received honorary doctorates from the University of Puerto Rico and the University of West Indies.

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[1] “Sugar,” Website of Sidney Mintz. Accessed 29 Dec. 2015.

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3 comments on “In Memoriam: Sidney W. Mintz

  1. […] Source: Remembering Sidney W. Mintz […]

  2. […] In Memoriam: Sidney W. Mintz, The Junto, 4 January 2016, by Jessica Parr A prodigious and productive ethnohistorian, Mintz’s earliest work focused on Puerto Rican sugar cane workers, eventually expanding his work to include Haiti and Jamaica. His scholarship encompassed slavery and global capitalism, cultural hybridity, Caribbean peasants, and the political economy of food commodities. […]

  3. Vaughn Scribner says:

    Dr. Mintz was an incredible scholar. His “Sweetness and Power” is the kind of work that I keep coming back to, whether for inspiration or further insight.

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