Universiteit Leiden

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Conference | Workshop

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

7 September 2017 - 8 September 2017
Johan Huizinga Building
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.