Networks of trade in Europe and Asia
Transnational perspectives can lead to a greater appreciation of the role that merchant networks (incl. communities, diasporas, family dynasties) played in comparison with and in relation to the great monopoly companies, often only analysed in a national context. A fairly recent wave of studies on networks (both formal and informal) opened up new avenues for research that we would like to discuss in this first session. First, historians have begun to take a closer look at the local intermediation of trade in the East. The role of go-betweens in Asia and elsewhere has become a focal point of attention. Nevertheless, there is still a considerable gap in the existing literature about the information networks that existed between Company servants, free traders and local merchants and manufacturers on the spot. Second, a renewed interest in private and privilege trade has brought a range of interesting ‘new’ actors to the forefront of research. We would like our speakers to share with us their ideas about the role of historiographically marginalised figures who were directly involved in the organization of the East India trade, or on those who were vaguely associated with the Companies’ activities. For instance, wholesalers, retailers, artisans, merchant-bankers, commercial agents, consuls, captains and supercargoes could all be engaged in the distribution (legal and illicit) of Oriental luxuries, the shaping of tastes and the creation of ever growing markets in Europe through re-export, private commissions and commercial speculation. We would like to discuss some of these networks in order to understand the complex ways in which goods, knowledge, trading practices and people circulated in Eurasia, constantly crossing national and regional boundaries. There are many more questions that could be discussed in this session, among them, but not restricted to:
What was the role of transnational, regional, and local networks in the East India trade?
How did Companies and servants interact with other networks, such as with politics, entrepreneurs, retailers, fashion magazines, and more widely with the republic of letters, learned societies, and the public sphere in general?
How did different companies interlink in their operations? What was the role of personnel from other countries?
What were the key skills and resources that private traders had to have in order to trade successfully in Company goods?
How did informal networks and information flows work and what was their impact?
What was the role and importance of historiographically marginalised actors for the organisation of the East India trade (merchant-bankers, commercial agents, consuls, captains and other members of the maritime elite)?