Color photograph of the head and torso of a light skinned woman with red hair smiling at the camera; she is situated in an outdoor natural location and wears a tweed blazer over a black top

Stephanie Leitzel

Marian and Andrew Heiskell Rome Prize
September 5, 2022–July 14, 2023
PhD Candidate, Department of History, Harvard University
Project title
Economies of Color: Italian Capitalists, Dye Commerce, and the Making of Global Economy (1450–1650)
Project description

My dissertation explores how the quest for color contributed to the emergence of a more integrated global economy. Before the advent of synthetic dyes in the nineteenth century, plants, insects, and minerals gave cloth its color. These natural dyes were some of the most crucial and global raw materials in textile production, itself a powerful engine of economic growth in Europe since the Middle Ages. As such, dyes serve as ideal proxies for the globalization for which this period is famous, and as measures of how developing European textile industries emerged from global connections. Focusing especially on the premier textile centers of Italy, I examine this process through the lens of “economies of color”—the economies that formed around the cultivation of dyes, their trade and use in production, and the consumption of color. Using sources such as merchant accounts, guild records, dye treatises, statutes, herbals, colonial court records, and customs registers, in archives from Florence to Mexico City, my project reconstructs the global dye commodity chains of Italian “capitalists”—merchant-bankers, textile makers, and dyers—in the pivotal centuries before and after the influx of New World dyes. I will begin writing Economies of Color at the American Academy in Rome. I will also investigate herbal dye economies in the local archives of central Italy, as well as continue research in Roman archives on mining in Lazio for alum, the mineral essential to dyeing and a fulcrum for several highly influential premodern monopolies.