Registration open for ‘Saffron: global history, Cambridge stories’, an interdisciplinary symposium, Saturday 11 June

Image credit: George Maynard, ‘Gathering Saffron in Whittlesford’ (painted in 1845; the last record of local saffron cultivation in the nineteenth century was in Duxford in 1806). Courtesty of the Saffron Walden Museum.



11 June 2022,  9.30am-5.15pm

Alison Richard Building,  7  West Road


  • Kasia Boddy
  • Bonnie Lander Johnson
  • Alice Wickenden

This interdisciplinary symposium seeks to explore the history of saffron cultivation and use – both globally and more locally. It is very unusual for a crop that flourishes in Crete, Kashmir and Iran to do well in Britain, but from the late fourteenth century, Crocus sativus provided a valuable cash crop for smallholders farming in the chalky fields of Cambridgeshire and Essex (centred around Saffron Walden). Some was sent to London but much was sold to Cambridge colleges to flavour and ‘gild’ food, and for hygienic and medicinal purposes. Many College gardens also grew their own crops.

The symposium is the culmination of a year-long project, under the auspices of the Materiality Research Growth Network, funded by the University’s Research and Collections Programme.  Working with colleagues in the Cambridge University Library, the Fitzwilliam Museum, Botanic Garden herbarium, and a range of college libraries and archives, the convenors have investigated the Cambridge collections in order to develop existing scholarship on the long history of the local and global saffron industry, focusing particularly on cultural practices that developed around saffron use, its material properties (its colour, flavour, and medicinal properties), literary and visual representations, and the religious and political meaning attributed to this expensive commodity, from the Protestant campaign against the ‘saffroned’ ‘staine’ of Catholicism in seventeenth-century Ireland to the ‘saffronising’ of Hindu Nationalism in India today. The symposium will present these diverse findings and bring together speakers from within and outside the University to offer an interdisciplinary and international view of saffron’s uses and meanings.

There will also be an opportunity to taste some saffron-flavoured food and drink.

Link to Symposium website for Programme and Registration: