Universiteit Leiden

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Conference | Workshop

Secrets of Business: Empires and Global Commercial Practices in the Early Modern Period

Thursday 7 September 2017 - Friday 8 September 2017
Johan Huizinga
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden
Conference Room (2.60)

The workshop proposes to look beyond the formal boundaries and narratives of empire by shifting the focus on private merchants and entrepreneurs, groups and communities who moved within, across and beyond different imperial zones. Using the perspectives actors to look at the formation and exercise of empire from the outside in, and vice versa, our aim is to uncover the diverse ways that private merchants, indigenous mercantile communities and commercial diasporic communities were significant agents of empire in their own right. As such, it will seek to explore the multifaceted ways these individuals and groups, many of whom were often referred to as ‘gentiles,’ others’, ‘outsiders’ or non-subjects/foreigners, exercised a substantial degree of agency and autonomy, and were able to explore, negotiate and profit from the commercial networks of these colonial spheres, whilst at the same time not being bound by them. How were these individuals and groups able to explore and navigate the political, socio-cultural and economical landscapes of different imperial zones? How and to what extent were they able to appropriate and utilise their corresponding institutional and legal structures and mechanisms? Moreover, how did the interplay between ‘merchant' and ‘empire' affect these individuals and communities and mercantile culture more broadly conceived? In shifting the perspective specifically to these actors, we also intend to examine the manifold identities, behaviours, commercial culture and language of trade of these multiplex individuals and communities. 

By highlighting the perspective and role of these groups and individuals, and the exchange and interplay between these actors and empire, we hope not only to underscore their important contributions, but also to question the extent to which the formal boundaries and sovereignty of territorial empires limited the entrepreneurial ability of these actors to conduct themselves as successful commercial agents. In doing so, we hope to uncover new and different perspectives into the historical processes of imperialism, cross-cultural trade, the development of a global commercial economy and the ways in which these affected mercantile agents and communities.

Registration for staffmembers and students: please e-mail Stephanie van Dam.


Day 1: 7 September 2017

9.30-9.45:            Reception
9.45-10.00:          Personal Introductions
10.00-12.00:       The Indian Ocean

Noelle Richardson
‘”Eating From the Same Bowl": Hindu mercantile culture and practices in Goa, 1750-1818’

Pedro Machado
‘Merchant Networks in South Asia and the Arabic Peninsula: New Insights into the Histories of Capitalism’

Rila Mukherjee
‘Agents of Empire: South Asian Men of Business, the Mughals and European Companies’

Radhika Seshan
‘Indigenous Merchant Networks and the English East India Company on the Coromandel Coast in the 17th century’

12.00-13.00:       Lunch
13.00-15.00:       Dutch Firms and Businessmen

Bram van Hofstraeten
‘What’s in a Name? Challenging Early Modern Ideal-Types of Private Partnerships in the Low Countries (17th-18th centuries)’

Catia Antunes, Susana Münch Miranda and Joao Paulo Salvado
‘Cutting Across Imperial Borders: Business Strategies of a Dutch Firm in Eighteenth-Century Lisbon’

Gijs Dreijer
‘Entangled Interests: Foreign Influence in the Ostend Company, 1716-1727’

15.00-15.30:       Break
15.30-17.00:       The Fascination of the Atlantic

Alejandro Garcia Monton
‘Profiting from the legal slave trade in the Spanish empire. Foreign merchants, courtly negotiations and local conflicts (17th century)’

Joao Paulo Salvado
‘Colonial Trade and Tax Farming in the Making of Lisbon’s Merchant Elite, 1700-1760’

Bram Hoonhout
‘Building an Atlantic Business Empire: the Partnership of Robertson, Parker, McInroy and Sandbach around 1800’

17.00-18.00:       Drinks (speakers only)
Dinner (speakers only)

Day 2: 8 September 2017

9.30-11.30:         Thinking the Mercantile ‘Other’

Francisco Bethencourt
'Structuring the New Christian maritime trading network, 1490s-1550s'

Edgar Cravo Bertrand Pereira
‘Merchant-banking and government contracts in 17th century Portugal and her empire: insights into some business portfolios’

Peter Mazur
'The Vaaz: A Family of Portuguese New Christian Merchant-Bankers and their Network’

David Graizbord
‘Commercial practices by New Christian/Jewish groups and their sense of ‘cultural identity’, ‘loyalties’ and ‘belonging(s)’

11.30-12.30:       Lunch
12.30-14.30:       Thinking About Merchants and Firms

Edmond Smith
‘Between Empires: Commercial Culture in Contested Spaces’

Cátia Antunes
‘What might be merchant culture?’

15.00:                   Leiden Global Interactions (LGI) Keynote Address by Francisco Bethencourt: 'Social Inequality in the World: Tombs and Burial Places'

17.00:                   Drinks (offered by LGI – speakers only)

18.00:                   Dinner (with LGI – speakers only)

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