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New research project: Women and the company: Female agency in global trading companies, 1600-1800

New research project: Women and the company: Female agency in global trading companies, 1600-1800

My project 'Women and the company: Female agency in global trading companies, 1600-1800' (funded by the Carlsberg Foundation) examines women’s integral role in early modern global capitalism, investigates the gendered nature of long-distance trade and questions existing understandings of the formation of the global economy.

To understand economic growth today, it is crucial to understand the formative centuries of global capitalism as well as the formal and informal roles of women. The relationship between women’s agency and formal economic institutions, such as trading companies, have long been debated with the majority of the existing historiography emphasizing how institutions limit women’s possibility for economic independence. However, remarkably, an in-depth study of the formal and informal roles of women in trading companies is yet to transpire. Examining these roles will provide a holistic, inclusive image of global capitalism and create a better understanding of economic growth. 

The project’s focus is on the intimate networks created between different European entrepôts like London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and the Coromandel Coast in India, where a number of European trading companies settled between 1600-1800. Amsterdam became an emporium of the world before the others, but by the turn of the eighteenth century, London surpassed it. Copenhagen, the capital of a much smaller country rose to prominence in the latter eighteenth century, providing crucial comparison to the two other, much larger, commercial hubs, as economic resources were fewer in comparison and transnational cooperation were of greater importance throughout the period. Europeans from all three cities settled on the Coromandel Coast making it a fertile region for transnational interactions and a place where women from Europe could participate actively in commercial networks. To trade successfully, Europeans relied on close cooperation with, and extending social networks to, the local rulers, merchants and other people who were active on the coast; these networks therefore differed from those shaped in Europe. In every geographical setting, women as partners, investors and petitioners were integral in shaping and maintaining durable ties across the world, which ultimately changed global economy. The project brings together socioeconomic, gender and global history; it will provide insights into the importance of intimate global networks, institutional flexibility and women’s role in society more generally while making a major contribution to the field of global history.

(Aske Laursen Brock)

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