HomeMercantile Networks in the Asian Maritime World since 1750

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Published on Wednesday, November 09, 2011 by Loïc Le Pape


Conference hosted by the International Institute of Social History (IISH) and the Netherlands Economic Historical Archive (NEHA), Amsterdam, 6-8 September 2012.


Project Outline

The notion of an ocean framing a geographical focus of historical study was most famously pioneered by Fernand Braudel in his work on the Mediterranean. Braudel argued for an all encompassing approach which incorporated environmental, social, economic as well as political aspects, and considered change over a range of periods (durée); at the heart of this was the notion of the Mediterranean as a unifying entity and framework of study. More recently, this idea has informed much of the work of scholars on the Atlantic world. As Bailyn (Bailyn, Bernard. Atlantic History: Concept and Contours. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005)  shows, the notion of the Atlantic, and the trading links which connect Europe, Africa, and North and South America, has led to the definition of the Atlantic as a discrete theatre of historical development. This has been most dramatically and convincingly articulated in the voluminous work on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and the interconnected trans-Atlantic plantation, commercial and industrial economies which it helped to create. It had proved a powerful tool in explaining both the developmental trajectories of national economies, and indeed the global economy.

The aim of this project is to explore a similar approach to the development of the maritime Asian World. In broad terms, this is defined as extending from the Cape of Good Hope in the East to Japan and the islands to the east of the Indonesian archipelago in the west; and from the Red Sea in the north to the northern shores of Australia in the south. The concept of course is nothing new. A major conference at the National Maritime Museum of the UK explored this theme in July 2010 ('That mighty and vast sea': Britain and the Indian Ocean World’), and several speakers called for a new approach to the history of the region which placed the commonalties of trade and cultural interconnections above the more traditional narratives of imperial conquest and dominance. What is perhaps new is the examination of the role of the activities of merchants, shippers and the connections between them (Asian, European and American) in creating and sustaining an interconnected and discrete entity for long term historical analysis: the Asian Maritime World. Of course some historians have already identified this approach, most notably K.N. Chaudhuri (The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company, 1660-1760.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978), but this project seeks to evaluate the importance of developing commercial links between such organizations in creating a discernable and coherent Asian Maritime sphere, suitable for systemic historical analysis in the same way that the Atlantic world has bee.

Key Questions

In pursuit of this wider objective, particular attention will be paid to the following:

  • Power relations and co-operations – between Europeans/Americans and Asians, between Europeans/Americans and Europeans/Americans, between Asians and Asians
  • Relations between the mercantile sector on the one hand and imperial powers (European, Japanese, American) and local political structures on the other.
  • The development and durability of networks and connections between different locations within the Asian Maritime World; between ports and between merchant/shipping firms, between the ports and the respective hinterlands; between different colonies.
  • The varied strategies for building and sustaining trust-based relationships: religious, ethnic, kinship, sharing of a common business culture, personal ‘systemic’ (legal/institutional)
  • How the physical and climatic environment  shaped the Asian Maritime World (e.g. the Monsoon Wind systems)
  • The extent to which new forms of commercial organisation emerged during this period based on informal and trust networks as opposed to the bureaucratic structures of the European East India Companies.
  • The question of periodisation within the era since 1750.
  • The development of networks which connected the Asian Maritime World with the wider global economy.
  • ‘Glocalization’ – how local conditions in the Asian Maritime World shaped wider and global commercial/economic relations.
  • The impact of transport and communication technological change on existing networks and relationships – especially in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Planned Outputs/Activities

  • A two and half days workshop (with full papers submitted in advance) at the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam, 6-8 September 2012
  • An edited volume based on papers at the event plus other suitable submissions


Scholars interested in participating are invited to submit an abstract addressing the theme of the workshop

before 1 March 2012.

  • The editorial team will inform you about acceptance by 1 April 2012.
  • Full papers should be submitted by 1 August 2012.

No workshop fees are involved, but the organisers are not able to contribute in any travel expenses or hotel accommodation. We will be glad however to help participants with finding hotel accommodation.

Abstracts should be directed to: Dr. Ulbe Bosma: ubo@iisg.nl

Editorial/Project Team

  • Tony Webster (Liverpool John Moores)
  • G. Roger Knight (University of Adelaide)
  • Andreas Zangger (Amsterdam)
  • Peter Post (Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, Amsterdam)
  • Christof Dejung (University of Konstanz)
  • Ulbe Bosma (IISH, Amsterdam)



  • Amsterdam, Holland


  • Thursday, March 01, 2012


  • Ulbe Bosma
    courriel : ubo [at] iisg [dot] nl

Information source

  • Christof Dejung
    courriel : christof [dot] dejung [at] hist [dot] unibe [dot] ch

To cite this announcement

« Mercantile Networks in the Asian Maritime World since 1750 », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, November 09, 2011, https://calenda.org/206049

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