Commercial Culture and Merchant Networks: Eighteenth-century diamond traders in global history
Title: Commercial Culture and Merchant Networks: Eighteenth-century diamond traders in global history
Author: VANNESTE, Tijl
Citation: Florence, European University Institute, 2009
Series/Report no.: EUI PhD theses; Department of History and Civilization
In discarding the idea of a geographically centralized origin of globalization, the emphasis on human interaction becomes ever more important. World history is not a history of the evolutionary path towards a unified world, in which one region has succeeded in imposing its culture on the other regions with which it has interacted. The region around the Indian Ocean, for instance, was not waiting on European arrival to begin its integration within a growing world-system. Many interdependencies between different people and different cultures were already taking place, creating a local pattern of integration that became attached, also through European action, to a wider world. Multiple integrative movements at different places all have to take into account a human propensity to cooperate with people who were fundamentally different. This thesis is about interactions between such people. It is about cross-cultural trade in the eighteenth century. It is a study of commerce as it took place between merchants who did not share the same religion, nationality or background, but who were all members of a commercial society, with its own logic, its own organization and its own language. The main question is micro-historical in scope: how can trade be organized between merchants of different origin? This thesis will advocate a network approach for studying commerce, allowing the important notions of trust, reputation and friendship to gain a prominent place in an analysis of economic history. The idea of a commercial society is based upon the existence of such networks, in which non-economic elements played a formative role. Sentiments and social roles that are not purely economic will feature prominently in this analysis, leading to a more developed model that is more rooted in society as a whole, causing merchants to be more than individuals in a market society. When embedded in this manner, human agency with regard to worldwide integration is not given to the individual, nor is globalization explained by structural conditions. The formative agency can be attributed to human networks that interacted. The thesis is divided into five chapters. The first chapter offers a methodological overview of the analysis of commerce. It aims to show that there is not only a problem with the assumption of individual rational behavior as the basis of economic interaction, but also with the narrow assumptions about his motives. A second chapter is concerned with the concrete case-study of a cross-cultural diamond trade network that incorporated merchant firms in four different cities, Antwerp, Lisbon, Amsterdam and London. Its main members came from different religious backgrounds, and what they shared was mainly the fact that they, or their families, had all migrated from a home country in which their religion was in a minority. Merchants were directly aware of the existence of competitive networks, and a third chapter analyzes another circuit of diamond traders, who were active in a mono-cultural network embedded in the Ashkenazi diaspora. By studying two different examples of trade diasporas, the fourth chapter aims to integrate the cosmopolitan outlook and membership of international networks of diaspora merchants with a successful positioning in a new society, providing a possible solution to the paradox that the same merchants who managed to integrate remote regions were not really embedded in those regions. By embedding merchants active in cross-cultural trade in their host societies, a bridge can be built between a micro-historical questioning of trade organization and a macro-historical questioning considering the possibility and nature of an early globalization. The last chapter deals with that second question.
LC Subject Heading: Commerce -- History -- 18th century; Diamond industry and trade -- History -- 18th century; Economic history
Defense Date: 12/10/2009; Examining Board: Prof. Diogo Ramada Curto (Universidade Nova de Lisboa) - supervisor Prof. Anthony Molho (EUI) Prof. Maxine Berg (University of Warwick) Prof. Jan de Vries (University of California at Berkeley)
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