The Globalized Periphery: Atlantic Commerce, Socioeconomic and Cultural Change in Central Europe (circa 1680-1850)
German Research Foundation
since January 2015
Socio-economic relations between early modern Central Europe – loosely defined as the territories of the Holy Roman Empire – and the Atlantic World have been widely neglected by the prospering research in Atlantic History. This project shall investigate the integration of the Empire's seemingly landlocked peripheries into global markets, with a focus on
- the export of manufactures meant for bartering African slaves and for consumption in the New World,
- the reflux of products from Africa and the Americas and their impact on material culture and on the social fabric in the Empire.
They shall be investigated in three discrete but interlinked sub-projects, covering a long 18th c., when Atlantic slave trade and plantation slavery, and European proto-industry were at peak.
Low wages in Pomerania, Silesia, Galicia etc. allowed for linen from these regions to compete even with cottons from India, on markets in Western Europe, Africa and the Americas. The networks of distribution, spun by Silesian linen merchants into seaports in Western Europe and beyond shall therefore constitute one case study within the project. Since Africa in particular was a ‘buyers' market' whose consumers shaped the assortments of goods shipped there and thus made their mark on production in Europe, a second sub-project shall analyse volume and structure of exports from Central Europe via France and Portugal to Africa. It will shed light on Central European interests in the slave trade and also investigate Huguenot and Sephardic mercantile networks. The third sub-project will study the impact of Atlantic consumer products and raw materials in Central Europe, including lesser known merchandise, e.g. West African gum Arabic, crucial to textile dying. It will ask how consumption contributed to the emergence of new groups (‘middling sorts') and identities. Aspects of the gradually changing social fabric will be labour, family and gender roles, food, clothing, interior decoration, etc.
The integration of European peripheries into global markets and the demographic growth triggered by additional income from proto-industrial employment invite an interpretation of this process as ‘labour intensive', as opposed to the ‘capital intensive' path generally regarded as the European characteristic. This hypothesis shall challenge current dichotomies separating Asia and Europe, and contribute to current debates on different paths to industrialization.