Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Fighting monopolies, defying empires 1500-1750: a comparative overview of free agents and informal empires in Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire

How did “free agents” (entrepreneurs operating outside of the myriad of interests of the centralized, state-sponsored monopolies) in Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire react to the creation of colonial monopolies (royal monopolies and chartered companies) by the central states in the Early Modern period?

Duration
2013  -   2018
Contact
Catia Antunes
Funding
ERC ERC

How did “free agents” (entrepreneurs operating outside of the myriad of interests of the centralized, state-sponsored monopolies) in Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire react to the creation of colonial monopolies (royal monopolies and chartered companies) by the central states in the Early Modern period? This project will answer this question by looking at the role individuals played in the construction of what I have called “informal empires”, understood as a multitude of self-organized networks operating world-wide, whose main goal was safeguarding their  personal social and economic advantages, regardless of (and in spite of) state intervention. Even though self-organized networks were successful in fighting the colonial monopolies and in so doing defying empires, colonial states fought back in an attempt to create mechanisms of effective control.

This project will pioneer the study of empires in the Early Modern World by consulting primary sources that have now been used for about one hundred years to build a narrative of colonial empires based on the actions of central states and the monopolies they imposed overseas. By using the same materials, set against an entirely new analytical methodology, I propose to deeply change our understanding of empire by bringing to the fore of colonial narratives the individual as the enabler of free agency, clustered in self-organized networks that fought the monopolies and defied the central state.

Highlighting the complexity of interactions between free agents within their networks and those networks and the monopolies and the state, this project will give a very significant contribution to the study of colonial empires and the replacement of historical categories that have been a hindrance to the full understanding of Early Modern colonial engagement. These overall goals will be achieved by making use of a theoretical approach rooted in a methodological grid of analysis applied to the primary sources that will be comparatively used to re-define the relationship between free agents and central states concerning empire. By doing so, this project will contribute to a redefinition of the concept of ‘Early Modern empire’ as one radically different from that which is supported by current historiography.

Connection with other research