From Kit Kats to Colonialism: A Rowntree Research Journey

From Kit Kats to Colonialism: A Rowntree Research Journey

Dr Emma Robertson, author of ‘Chocolate, Women and Empire’, shares her research on the colonial contexts of the Rowntree Company’s growth.

Catch up on our special talk by Dr Emma Robertson (Associate Professor, La Trobe University, Australia) as she shares her research on the histories of empire and labour which underpinned the global success of the Rowntree Company’s chocolate business across more than 150 years.

West Indian Estates Dover Jamaica

Workers and buildings at Rowntree & Co’s Dover Estate, Jamaica, 1900. From an original held at the Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York.

Emma grew up in York, where the name Rowntree was a familiar presence in her education, in the city’s civic spaces, and in the factory seconds – known as ‘waste’ – which her grandmother brought home as a treat from the Rowntree factory where she worked.

Emma’s 2009 book Chocolate, Women and Empire remains the only sustained analysis of the Rowntree Company in colonial context. It examines chocolate production from cocoa bean to chocolate box, presenting histories of gender, race, and empire which have been omitted from the dominant narrative of the company’s commercial success.

This talk is part of an ongoing project on Rowntree Colonial Histories at The Rowntree Society, a registered educational charity based in York. Our mission is to build and share knowledge about the histories of the Rowntree family, company and trusts and their continuing relevance for the local, national, and global challenges facing our contemporary world.

The free event was online via Zoom. You can catch up by watching the video below.


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Our work is enabled by grant funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. If you would like to make a financial donation to further support our work, it is easy to pay online (with or without Gift Aid) by clicking the link below. You can get in touch with us about other ways of giving via