Prussia all at sea? The Emden-based East India Companies and the challenges of transnational enterprise in the eighteenth century

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Abstract

Against the prevailing view of the smaller, “interloping” East India companies as either national instruments of imperial expansion or mere covers for foreign enterprise, this article demonstrates that they were genuinely transnational operations with strong links to the state. Such transnationalism made it possible for small Central and Eastern European enterprises to engage in early modern globalization processes alongside the larger chartered companies of Europe’s “Atlantic façade.” Focusing on Prussia’s Emden Companies, this article evaluates the challenges and opportunities of such a transnational institutional set-up. Using Flemish, German, British, French, and American archives it analyses the roles of state-intervention, international relations, selection and enforcement problems to demonstrate that the development of commercial capitalism was a transnational and transimperial phenomenon. It thus reinforces the argument that European economic and imperial expansions were not purely market-driven and national processes but transnational phenomena that relied on private transnational networks as much as on state and state-like institutions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)539-566
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of World History
Volume31
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sep 2020

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