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PhD defence

The Agency of Empire: Personal Connections and Individual Strategies in the Shaping of the French Early Modern Expansion (1686-1746)

Thursday 22 March 2018
Academy Building
Rapenburg 73
2311 GJ Leiden

The French early modern empire is usually perceived as centralized and tightly controlled by the monarchy. In her dissertation Elisabeth Heijmans probes below the surface of French overseas companies to reveal strategies and connections of individual actors. Through the study of French company directors it becomes apparent that these companies had other motivations and goals than economic profitability or institutional efficiency alone.

Taking the points of view of the directors of the companies operating in Pondicherry (Coromandel Coast in India) and those active in Ouidah (Bight of Benin, West Coast of Africa), Heijmans examines the inter-dependence between institutions and individual agency in the early modern French empire. The agency of directors inside the French companies included – but was not limited to – their private trade activities. It also encompassed their ability to take strategic decisions regarding cross-cultural diplomatic relations and trans-imperial power dynamics contributing to both their own interests and those of the companies.

The research showcases that the French early modern empire relied on cooperation with other European empires, on the participation of private merchants and on the integration in local political and trading context of overseas agents. This situation was made possible by leaving some space for individual agency inside the institutional organization of these companies. Through this focus, Heijmans contributes to a better understanding not only of the expectations of members of French companies but also to the goals of these companies, oriented towards offering a platform for individual agency to stimulate the expanding early empire.


  • Prof. C.A.P. Antunes
  • Prof. S. Marzagalli (Université Côte d’Azur, Nice)


PhD defences are free; you do not have to register.

PhD dissertations

PhD dissertations by Leiden PhD students are available digitally after the defence through the Leiden Repository, that offers free access to these PhD dissertations. Please note that in some cases a dissertation may be under embargo temporarily and access to its full-text version will only be granted later.

Press contact

Maarten Muns, Scientific Communications Adviser, Leiden University
+31 71 527 3282

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