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My Research

British ‘Private Trade’ Networks in the Arabian Sea, c. 1680 - c. 1760 

By the early eighteenth century, British East India Company employees had built up complex and extensive ‘private trade’ networks across the Indian Ocean. Although lying outside the 'monopoly' of the Company, this branch of commerce has long been seen by historians as an important factor underpinning commercial hegemony by extending British influence into areas untouched by Company trade. Studies of private trade by Holden Furber, Peter J. Marshall, Pamela Nightingale, Elizabeth Saxe and Ian Bruce Watson have all emphasised its close relationship to the development of imperial control in India.[1] Recently however, new historical approaches have led to explorations of this topic that move away from a rigid concentration on Empire. Private trade networks have come to be characterised as transnational enterprises that formed an important part of an emerging early modern global economy. For instance, Soren Mentz has argued that it was financial connections with the City of London that were most central for the success of Madras private traders, while Emily Erikson and Peter Bearman have argued for the importance of the trade of Company captains for connecting disparate regional markets in the Indian Ocean with global economic processes.[2]

Drawing on some of the insights from this recent work, my thesis seeks to situate British private trade in the eighteenth-century Indian Ocean within the framework of global history. Through archival research in the UK and Mumbai, it will concentrate on British private merchants based in the Arabian Sea and their networks of associates and correspondents. In particular, I am interested in the ways in which the functioning of maritime trade was dependent on a complex web of local, regional and transnational connections, not merely comprised of commodity trade and capital transfer - 'Company men' functioned within a world of inter-personal associations and their commercial ventures were dependent on social networks that facilitated the exchange of information and the purchase of goods.

[1] See Holden Furber, Bombay Presidency in the Mid-Eighteenth Century (London, 1965), Peter J. Marshall, East Indian Fortunes: The British in Bengal in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford, 1976), Pamela Nightingale, Trade and Empire in Western India 1784-1806 (Cambridge, 1970), Elizabeth L. Saxe, Fortune’s Tangled Web: Trading Networks of English Entrepreneurs in Eastern India (Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Yale University, 1979) and Ian Bruce Watson, Foundation for Empire: English Private Trade in India, 1659-1760 (New Delhi, 1980).

[2] Soren Mentz, The English Gentleman Merchant at Work: Madras and the City of London, 1660-1740 (Copenhagen, 2005) and Emily Erikson and Peter Bearman, ‘Malfeasance and the Foundations for Global Trade: The Structure of English Trade in the East Indies, 1601-1833’ in American Journal of Sociology112/1 (2006), pp. 195-230.

Main Supervisor:

Maxine Berg


Other Reseach Networks:

Global History and Culture Centre

Europe's Asian Centuries Project