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Treasure Fleets of the Eastern Oceans: China, India and the West 1601-1833 (HI31F)


Module Director: Professor Maxine Berg 
Phone: 024 76523377
Office Hours: Room H020, Wednesdays 9.15-10 and Thursdays 2:00-3:30, or by appointment

Seminar Times: 10:00-12:00 Wednesdays H.003 and 11:00 - 1:00 Thursdays H043

Note: for 2019-2020 this module is offered as a one-term Special Subject available in the Spring term only to final-year 'Renaissance and Modern History' stream students returning from the Autumn Term spent studying in Venice



The module explores European discovery and trade in Asian exotic and luxury commodities. Those commodities: spices, textiles, porcelain and tea, brought from South-east Asia, China and India transformed the domestic lives of Europe’s elites and ordinary people. The module emphasises the encounters and connections of Asia’s and Europe’s material cultures. It investigates how curious exotics collected on voyages of discovery became European desirables and even necessities. It looks at how the goods were traded first by Asian merchants, then by Europe’s East India Companies. It looks at how these precious goods for world trade were made, then transported in long-distance sea voyages. It shows how the trade was organized across far-flung trading posts via ships risking storms, privateering and war. Such goods from afar became the gifts of diplomatic missions. They inspired scientific expeditions and experiments, and they entered into the European art world. The treasure fleets of discovery and encounter turned to the ships and navies of empire. The module connects older historiographies of colonialism and imperialism to new questions arising from global history. It looks to art history, the histories of collecting and display and anthropology to understand the meanings of the goods and the desires for exotic cargoes.