Wednesday, November 17, 2010

CFP: Merchant Practice in the Age of Commerce, 1650-1850

The organizers of an international colloquium on "Merchant Practice in the Age of Commerce, 1650-1850 (no website yet available)," to be held in Paris, France, June 9-10, 2011, have issued the following call for papers:
The goal of this colloquium is to explore new ways of analyzing and conceptualizing commercial activity in the preindustrial age. Commerce was central to European and colonial economies at the time, and considerable historiographical work has been devoted to its study.  Recent research, however, has tended to focus on network-building in a sociological tradition, without really dealing with more strictly economic issues such as price formation, market structures, or the nature of managerial organizations. The latter questions are thus usually left for standard economic theory to answer, with the result that tools and notions from current economic analysis, from market formation to price signals, offer and demand, managerial strategy, or profit-making. This colloquium, which is funded by the French project MARPROF (Compte et profits marchands d'Europe et d'Amériques, 1750-1800), aims to encourage discussion of new conceptualizations of commercial activity, specifically based on what the economic actors at the time actually did and thought.

Pages from Jacob Adams account book,
1673-1693 (Baker Library
Historical Collections, HBS).
Issues for discussion include whether it is possible to elaborate analyses of profit not as a finite, mathematical quantity which can be calculated at regular intervals, but as a qualitative judgment combining some quantitative elements and other, broader qualitative assessments, especially related to credit standings; whether interpersonal network strategies can be read as credit-boosting and/or risk-avoiding strategies going beyond opportunistic behavior; which economic and non-economic constraints these strategies take into account, and in what discursive way; how product quality and quality scales can be built and articulated to the institutional framework of quality control developed in modern states, through the apparently fuzzy vocabulary and imprecise references used by the merchants themselves; how strategic and tactical choices are reached, and constrained, by reference to all these elements; which tools, quantitative (account books, e.g.) or qualitative (correspondence, e.g.) are used in what way to verbalize judgment on all these points.

We wish to concentrate on what we call the Age of Commerce, a time span of some 200 years from the English Revolution to the first decades of the Industrial revolution, excluding fully developed industrial capitalist practices, which deeply transformed commerce and its management. Trade was by far the most visible, and most probably the fastest-growing economic sector throughout this period, and traders took part in what has been sometimes called a first globalization. The colloquium aims at attracting quantitative or other empirically based research focusing on specific aspects of merchant practices in order to offer novel interpretations of their use, by placing them within their specific historical context.
Interested scholars should submit a two-page (500 words maximum) proposal by January 15, 2011, to marprof2011@ehess.fr. Researchers from all continents are welcome. The papers will be independently evaluated by the scientific committee; acceptance will be communicated no later than February 15, 2011.