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It's Tea Time

UCR Associate Professor Discusses Tea, the World’s Second-Most Popular Drink, on History Channel's "Modern Marvels"

See the show at 10 p.m. Dec. 13, or check local listings

(December 5, 2006)

A Time for Tea, 2001Enlarge

A Time for Tea, 2001

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — UC Riverside's Piya Chatterjee, an associate professor of women’s studies and an expert on the history of tea, will be featured in the program “Modern Marvels: Tea” on the History Channel, 10 p.m. Dec. 13 and 2 a.m. Dec. 14.

Chatterjee is the author of "A Time for Tea: Women, Labor and Post/Colonial Politics on an Indian Plantation" (Duke University Press, 2001). The book reveals how the female tea pluckers seen in product advertisements as picturesque women in mist-shrouded fields came to symbolize the heart of British colonialism in India.

In the book, Chatterjee weaves personal, scholarly and artistic voices throughout the narrative, which complicates the understanding of women's labor and history at the grassroots in postcolonial societies. The work of tea as the work of women is at the heart of this story of empire. The book won the John Franklin Hope Book Award from Duke University press.

“On the program, I talk about the history of tea, and its importance in global history as a ‘character’ in a theater of many empires, linking Chinese, British, Japanese, North American and Indian histories and cultures - from the Boston Tea Party, to Japanese Tea ceremonies to the Opium-Tea Wars,” Chatterjee said.

Citing her own work on the subject, Chatterjee discusses how women's bodies - as workers and as consumers - mark this journey of global trade in the most indelible ways.

“Tea was critical to the formation of the East India Company, the first and largest trade cartel or multinational company in the world,” Chatterjee said. “The fact that these profits are carried through the bridge of women's bodies, across the international division of labor, is of critical concern.”

The second-most popular drink in the world, after water, tea is 5,000 years old, with 6 billion pounds harvested annually today. “Modern Marvels: Tea: will visit the Lipton's plant in Suffolk, VA., and the only tea plantation in the country, the 127-acre Charleston Plantation in South Carolina.

The flow of tea from England to the Colonies will be discussed, as well as the the emergence of herbal, powdered, iced and decaf teas.

Chatterjee is a historical anthropologist with an emphasis on south Asia. She came to UC Riverside in 1994 from the University of Chicago, where she received a Ph.D. in anthropology. Her research areas include international women's movements, particularly in the global south; labor politics; colonialism; and feminist ethnographic writing.

Chatterjee’s other writing includes "Ethnographic Acts: Writing Women and Other Political Fields;" "'Secure this Excellent Class of Labor' Gender and Race in Labor Recruitment for British Indian Tea Plantations;" and "A State of Work: Women and Politics on Plantations Frontlines."

Check local listings and site below for subsequent air times:



The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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