Economic objects

Newland, C (2020) 'Economic objects.' In: White, C.L, ed. A cultural history of objects: in the age of industry - volume 5. Bloomsbury, London, pp. 57-76. ISBN 9781474298797

Official URL:


This chapter talks about an Economic Object and focuses on gutta-percha, an amazing resin from the Malay peninsular that revolutionised submarine telegraphy from the mid 19th century. Gutta-percha resin was an excellent electrical insulator and almost indestructible in seawater. With its discovery, long held dreams of international telecommunications finally became possible. To say that demand spiked is a serious understatement. Gutta-percha launched and sustained a boom in the manufacture and laying of submarine cables that was to continue for a hundred years. Gutta-percha drove the development of a huge manufacturing industry and fuelled monumentally ambitious, near-global projects such as the All-Red Line (a British-owned Imperial submarine cable designed to encircle the globe). Far flung corners of the world were put into almost immediate – and rather addictive - contact. The fabric of Empires were stitched ever tighter and control crept back towards imperial centres. The communications made possible by gutta-percha can be said to have changed the world’s economies, political systems, military strategies and social relationships in more fundamental ways than perhaps any other nineteenth-century material. Confusingly for a material so desperately vital, internationally important, and of such widespread use, the name of this wonderstuff - gutta-percha - is now almost entirely unfamiliar to twenty-first century ears. This chapter explores the world of gutta-percha, from Indonesia to Islington, drawing out some of the many stories from the material.

Item Type: Book Chapter or Section

This is the fifth volume in a set of six. The ISBN for the set is 9781474298810.

The six volumes cover: 1 – Antiquity (500 BCE to 500 CE); 2 – Medieval Age (500 to 1400); 3 – Renaissance (1400 to 1600); 4 – Age of Enlightenment (1600 to 1760); 5 – Age of Industry (1760 to 1900); 6 – Modern Age (1900 to the present).

Divisions: School of Writing, Publishing and the Humanities
Research Centres and Groups: History and Heritage Research Centre
UoA: History
Date Deposited: 11 Mar 2020 15:18
Last Modified: 16 May 2022 14:40
URI / Page ID:
Request a change to this item or report an issue Request a change to this item or report an issue
Update item (repository staff only) Update item (repository staff only)