Making History: Jesse Cromwell

Interview by Zach Doleshal


For the fourth installment of our “Making History” series, Zach Doleshal talks to Jesse Cromwell, a senior doctoral student in history at the University of Texas at Austin. From his childhood among the crumbling Spanish forts in West Florida to his experiences in the archives of Chavez’s Venezuela, Jesse Cromwell shares stories of adventure with Zach Doleshal culled from both his own life and the experiences of the Caribbean smugglers who form the subject of his dissertation. The relevance of Cromwell’s work on the contraband trade in the Colonial-Era Caribbean, as well as the author’s own philosophy of history, comes through clearly in what may be “Making History’s” most swashbuckling interview.

Jesse Cromwell is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department of The University of Texas at Austin.  He is currently writing his dissertation, which is tentatively titled, “Covert Commerce: A Social History of Contraband Trade in Venezuela, 1680-1800.”  This project examines the unexplored lives of non-Spanish smugglers, Venezuelan collaborators, corrupt Spanish officials, and Afro-Caribbeans involved in the colony’s flourishing illicit trade markets.  It argues that the inter-imperial contraband carried out by these shadowy figures heavily influenced the development of Venezuelan society in the eighteenth century and facilitated a commercial separation from Spain that preceded its political rupture from the mother country.

His research interests include: seventeenth and eighteenth-century Latin American and Caribbean history, maritime history, imperial rivalry, commerce and trade, smuggling, and piracy.

In September 2011, Jesse presented a paper for UT’s Institute for Historical Studies’ “New Work in Progress” series entitled “Chocolate-Covered Colony: The Material Culture of Illicitly-Traded Cacao in Eighteenth Century Venezuela.” His talk focused on “the material culture of smuggled cacao, Venezuela’s most profitable cash crop, and how Venezuelans adapted to the presence of commercial criminality in their daily lives.”

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