From Cod to Cinchona: Creating a Bibliographic Database of Sources for the Trading Consequences Project

As part of our work with the Trading Consequences project, Jim Clifford and I have compiled a bibliographic database of secondary sources that focus on the environmental and economic effects of the nineteenth-century global commodity trade. This is no small task, since the historiography is as vast as the imperial networks that this project seeks to explore. In this post, I’ll explain how we went about creating the database.

Earlier this year, Jim created a preliminary database of sources that originated from his own research interests in the environmental history of the British Empire during the nineteenth century. Project members had included many of these sources in the Digging into Data funding application, so it made an obvious starting point for us.

Zotero was an easy choice of software for our database, and it offers a number of advantages. For example, users can create folders within the larger database so that entries can be categorized by descriptors such as geographic area and type of commodity analyzed within the text. The software also enables users to enter source entries by clicking on an icon within the web browser address bar, create notes for such entries, and share their work with others in a group. With the click of a few keys, Zotero easily converts these entries into a conventional bibliography, as we’ve done at the end of this post.

Screen capture of our database in Zotero. Note the various folders on the left and the list of sources in the middle.

During the summer, I joined the Trading Consequences project as a researcher. One of my tasks was to add sources to the existing database. My first strategy led me to survey existing bibliographies related to environmental history. For example, I used the Network in Canadian History and Environment’s (NiCHE) New Scholars Wiki that its members had created in 2008 in order to assist graduate students who needed to compile secondary sources for comprehensive exams in environmental history.

As any historical researcher will tell you, there’s gold in them footnotes. And it is no different with the process we employed to build our database. Key works on the environmental history of the British Empire – such as William Beinart and Lotte Hughes’ Environment and Empire (Oxford University Press, 2007) – served as excellent sources for us to identify further articles, edited collections, monographs, and theses.

My role as a researcher on the project has been to think about the northern North American side of the story, so I drew from my knowledge of Canadian history. Many books and articles immediately came to mind from my own years of study as a doctoral student. I then dug deeper by drawing from journal indexes like American History and Life as I continued to mine sources for further entries.

The bibliography presented below is a work in progress. Although we have considered all areas of the British Empire, much of the focus so far has been on Britain and Canada. There are certainly many more useful sources we haven’t yet included, so please feel free to make suggestions in the comment box below. Also, if you’d like access to the Zotero database, send Jim an email: jim.s.clifford gmail com.


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Allingham, Anne. Taming the Wilderness: The First Decade of Pastoral Settlement in the Kennedy District. Townsville: James Cook University of North Queensland, 1977.

Alpers, Edward A. Ivory and Slaves in East Central Africa: Changing Patterns of International Trade to the Later Nineteenth Century. London: Heinemann, 1975.

Anderson, David, and Richard H. Grove. Conservation in Africa: Peoples, Policies and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Anderson, Jennifer L. “Nature’s Currency: The Atlantic Mahogany Trade and the Commodification of Nature in the Eighteenth Century.” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 2, no. 1 (2004): 47–80.

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Anker, Peder. Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order in the British Empire, 1895-1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

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