Claire Sabel

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of History, University of Pennsylvania

2022 to 2023
Research Fellow

Rare Earth: Gemstones Geohistories and Commercial Geography Between Southeast Asia and Europe c. 1600-1750

"Rare Earth" is a study of the gem trade between Southeast Asia and Europe in the period 1600-1750. It focuses on the social, cultural, and intellectual dimensions of this trade, especially its impact on ideas about the earth, its composition, and the distribution of natural resources. It is therefore also a case study of early modern extractive industries, and the role of science in these industries in the period. The dissertation follows the commodity chain of gemstones from surveying, mining, and buying gems to studying, and consuming these precious minerals, across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. In doing so, it demonstrates that gems encompassed many forms of knowledge and knowledge-exchange during the early modern period. I argue that long-distance trade and the growing interactions between Europe and Southeast Asia, particularly in the Malay world, were a significant factor shaping geographical, geochemical, and geological knowledge.