When it comes to the day-to-day practices of XVIIIth-century merchants, such as their accounting records, the entrepreneurial strategies they developed, and more generally everything connected to profit-making, quantified analysis is hard to come by, not to say nonexistent. A series of obstacles have stymied most attempts at such analysis, among which the indeterminacy of the price and quality scales used to describe goods, the fact that goods cannot usually be traced through the series of transactions they underwent, the lack of accounting precision, both with respect to overhead and to assets, etc. Our project aims at recapturing the internal coherence of these practices, and at reaching a better understanding of merchant strategies both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Quantitatively, we are in the process of digitizing a set of transactions on a database developed for this purpose (see links below). This digitization project will enable us to gain a complete vision of a series of merchant situations, not so much through balance sheets which in most cases cannot be drawn, but by associating each account to a series of sets of goods/prices, each of which is in turn linked to a trend toward profitability (or loss). We hope to achieve an equivalent to the "landscape" each merchant perceived through his accounts, which was actually a qualitative perception of his overall profit situation, rather than a quantified balance sheet of his actual profit.
A second stage of the project will consist in cross-studying these accounting landscapes with the qualitative data one can derive from merchant correspondence from the same individuals and at the same time, a process of comparison which should enable us to link the accounting percception to specific profit strategies. The present website will make public the results of the project as they come in.