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"Questions, Approaches and Methods"

Doctoral and Postdoctoral Workshop

March 11, 2010



Manuel Covo, EHESS

Bertie Mandelblatt, Université de Montréal


      Economic history has played a pivotal role in the growth of Atlantic history over the past few generations. The study of the transatlantic circulation of ships, goods, people and capital, with its roots in the Annales School, lies at the heart of the way the field has developed. For example, the increase in works on the transatlantic slave trade, central to Atlantic history for the ways it underlines the links between the Caribbean, Africa and Europe, has shifted from examining slaves exclusively as merchandise to also accounting for them as actors at various moments and sites of the trade itself. And in the last twenty years, more attention has been progressively paid to both transimperial and intercolonial exchanges, among which contraband and smuggling are emerging as increasing foci, often in order to question the nature of imperial boundaries, arguing for both the relevance of imperial regulatory structures and for the porousness of national/imperial boundaries.

     The growth of Atlantic history has been accompanied by a questioning of the frameworks which have sustained it during these generations. Most critics focus on the scales at work in studies of Atlantic history. For instance, much current research on the economic and trade history of the Atlantic world is moving beyond strict geographic and substantive parameters that have in the past confined it to investigations of unitary Western European imperial spheres (the British Atlantic, the French Atlantic, the Iberian Atlantic), characterized by a focus on successful regimes of production and successful systems of transatlantic exchange (slaves, sugar, merchant networks). Increasingly research on Atlantic trade is concentrating on what has remained outside these lenses :


  • the degree to which, and the modes in which imperial Atlantics overlapped and were mutually dependent, via legal or illicit trade ;



  • sites within what has been traditionally considered as ‘the Atlantic’, where trade with the larger Atlantic plays a small, partial or marginal role, such as the pays d’en haut ; the development of continental non-transatlantic regional trades within and across imperial spheres, via overland transport or coastal shipping ;


  • sites outside what has been traditionally considered as 'the Atlantic': trade connections to Germany, the Baltic, the North (Russia, Poland, etc), the East Indies, and the Mediterranean ;


  • the history of metropolitan and colonial experimentation with regulatory and legal trade frameworks in order to understand early modern mercantilism as a series of systems always in the making and the result of competing interests ;


  • the failure of trade initiatives, thus permitting a better understanding of the complexity and multiplicity of the forces at play. Examples include: failed initiatives in establishing trade and its associated practices (merchant houses, banking, credit, shipping) ;
  • failed initiatives in preventing trade through embargoes or the imposition of fines and restrictions; or failed colonial endeavours where trade played a pivotal role (Kourou) ;


  • a greater attentiveness to the roles played by the consumption practices connected to the commodities in question, and the means by which they influenced trade ;


  • a greater attentiveness to the circulation of the multitude of 'minor' goods that made up transatlantic or intercolonial cargoes such as cotton, flour, and molasses, that is, those other than the great colonial commodities that propelled the Atlantic system forward (sugar, tobacco, slaves).


     Within current research on Atlantic trade, there is also a heightened methodological consciousness regarding the object of inquiry. While some researchers follow the actors involved directly or indirectly in trade (merchants, bankers, ship captains, consumers); some follow institutions (merchant lobby groups, colonial sovereign counsels, the Ministère de la Marine); others follow the commodities being traded in order to understand their circulation and the transformation in their value; and still others focus on the development of theories of political economy and commerce, and the roles these theories played in the formation of metropolitan political and colonial policy. This junior workshop seeks to highlight the research of a number of newer scholars who are studying trade in this wider Atlantic context during the eighteenth century.









9h00 - 9h15 : WELCOME


9h15 - 9h45 : INTRODUCTION


9h45 - 10h45 SESSION ONE : Commodities and Circuits

Chair : Trevor Burnard, Warwick University, U.K.

Matthew Crawford, Kent State University, USA, "Contraband, Commerce, and the Court : The Economies of Quina in the Late Eighteenth-century Spanish Atlantic".

Joseph Horan, Florida State University, USA, "Bringing the Indies to France : Acclimatization as a Response to the French Colonial Crisis of the 1790’s".



11h00 - 12h00 SESSION TWO : States and Empires

Chair : Allan Potofsky, Université Paris 7, France.

Klas Rönnbäck, Göteborg University, Sweden, "Power, Plenty and Pressure groups: British and Danish colonialism in the West Indies and the role of the state, 1768-1772".

Alexandre Dubé, Université McGill, Canada, "Pacte colonial et bataille du libéralisme : quelques réflexions sur l'approvisionnement colonial".



12h00 - 14h00 : LUNCH



14h00 - 15h30 SESSION THREE : Maritime Profits

Chair : Pierre Gervais, Université Paris 8, France.

Laure Pineau, Université de Nantes, France : "Le grand négoce à Nantes et l'Atlantique ou une approche du capitalisme commercial au XVIIIe siècle".

Mariana Candido, Princeton University, USA, "The Rise of an Atlantic Port: Benguela in the 18th century".

James Roberts, Johns Hopkins University, USA, "Social Networking in the Pursuit of Wartime Profits: New Englanders in the Late Eighteenth-Century French and British Caribbean".




Silvia Marzagalli, Université de Nice, France.