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The sweetest gender: feminine subjectivities and the gendering of sweets in Barcelona (1650-1800)

Project description

Discovering the sweet manufacturing activities of women in Barcelona’s past

An immense volume of historical literature has been based on the impact of Spanish colonial trade between 1650 and 1800, a crucial period of globalisation and popularisation of sugar consumption. As such, the manufacturing and consumption of sweets is an important related topic of investigation. Also important is the gender aspect given the special role women had in the popularisation of sweet consumption customs. However, little research has focused on the role of women in this development. The EU-funded SWEET project will explore women’s economic, social and intellectual contribution to the manufacturing of sweets in the city of Barcelona. The research will be based on sources that are rich in information and relatively unexplored until now. These include written texts and visual and material artefacts comprising an important part of local cultural heritage.


Held assumptions about an inherent female sweet tooth are long-standing, shaping beliefs, attitudes and eating habits from the early modern era to the present day. This research project investigates the process of feminization of sweet taste as well as feminine subjectivities in the making and eating sweets in Barcelona between 1650 and 1800, a crucial period of globalization and popularization of sugar consumption. By addressing the connection between sweets and female nature, this study aims to examine how cultural meanings of sweet food emerged and evolved in the period when sugar was becoming a mass-consumption commodity in Europe. Firstly, this study explores how the changing culinary tastes and the diffusion of new medical knowledge affected the ways of thinking about ‘sweet food’ as well as the social and economic aspects of the sugar trade. Secondly, it examines the agency of women in the manufacture of sweets in private and public spheres, challenging the guild of confectioners in the city. Finally, it looks at refrescos as specific patterns of consumption of sweets and sociability in which women played a crucial role as civilizing agents in the Spanish Enlightenment. This study is based on a large set of underexplored textual, visual and material sources, making use of the rich cultural heritage preserved in Barcelona. By examining the social, intellectual and economic agency of women, this research seeks to move beyond historiographical narratives dominated by men as central actors in the global history of sugar. This research will change the main focus of the recent scholarly away from the courtly circles and Atlantic colonial trade to a Mediterranean and non-courtly urban contexts, which is underrepresented in the field of the substantial historiography on sugar. Overall, it will provide an original reading of the Spanish Enlightenment and further their incorporation into the current debates on the Global Enlightenment.


Net EU contribution
€ 212 933,76
CB2 1TN Cambridge
United Kingdom

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East of England East Anglia Cambridgeshire CC
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 212 933,76