Moralising Commerce in a Globalising World. Multidisciplinary Approaches to a History of Economic Conscience, 1600-1900

Moralising Commerce in a Globalising World. Multidisciplinary Approaches to a History of Economic Conscience, 1600-1900

Felix Brahm, German Historical Institute London; Eve Rosenhaft, University of Liverpool; Co-funded by the Economic History Society and the University of Liverpool
German Historical Institute London
United Kingdom
Vom - Bis
22.06.2017 - 24.06.2027
Felix Brahm, German Historical Institute London

In the twenty-first century, the principles and practices of ethical investment and fair trade, the politics of boycott as well as corporate ‘greenwashing’ are well established in the repertoire of corporate and individual action and public debate. The history of transatlantic slavery and its opponents in the eighteenth century, and of the opposition against colonial exploitation in the nineteenth century, remind us that this repertoire has a history; neither moral indifference nor ethical engagement is ‘natural’ or self-evident. When and how do (and did) people with a measurable material interest, but who are not already embedded in long-standing maritime-mercantile networks, come to see themselves as participants in global businesses? How and when does (and did) awareness of one’s material stake in an aspect of global trade prompt awareness of ethical implication and/or moral-political engagement? How and when have those who benefited from business enterprises with human or environmental costs indirectly, at second hand, or as subaltern agents come to reflect on the nature of the business?

This conference aims to provide a focus for discussion of how we might historicise economic conscience, investigating the means and processes by which individuals and collective actors have learned to see their own economic choices as contributing to a global system and to reflect on the impacts of their choices on other people and places, both near and far. Accordingly, our interest is less in critical characterisations of global systems – colonialism, imperialism, capitalism for example – or the social movements that inscribed those critiques on their banners than in the structures of sentiment and knowledge that made possible new articulations between understandings of moral obligation, locality, the spaces of humanity and the ‘economic’. Based on that, we furthermore ask about respective individual expressions and collective actions like criticism of greed for profits from global commerce, voluntary self-restrictions, consumer boycotts and responding corporate strategies.


Thursday, 22 June

14.00-14.30 Welcome and Introduction
Eve Rosenhaft (Liverpool) / Felix Brahm (GHIL)

14.30-16.00 The Company as Economic and Political Actor
Chair: Indra Sengupta (GHIL)

Mahesh Gopalan (Delhi): Institutionalising a New Moral and Economic Order in Early Modern Madras

Aske Laursen Brock (Canterbury): Companies and Charity? Corporate Social Responsibility in Seventeenth Century England

16:30-18:00 Colonial Reform and the Delineation of Moral Communities
Chair: Hannes Ziegler (GHIL)

Laura Tarkka-Robinson (Helsinki): Vindicating the Colonised: Morality, National Character and the East India Company

Blake Smith (Chicago/Paris): Moral and Racial Economies of Colonial Reform: Dirk van Hogendorp in Late Eighteenth-Century Java

18.00- 19:15 Keynote Lecture I
Chair: Eve Rosenhaft (Liverpool)

Jennifer Davis (Cambridge): Trade (mark) Wars, 1860-1920: Sweatshops, the Retail Trade and the Meaning of Trade Marks in Britain

Friday, 23 June

9:30-11:00 Critical Reactions to Transnational Exchange
Chair: Michael Schaich (GHIL)

Yusuke Wakazawa (York): The Epistolary Novel and Moral Consciousness. Smollett’s Literary Geography and the Paradox of the Global in Humphry Clinker

Aaron Graham (London): Contractors, Corruption and Conscience in North America, 1754-83

11:30-13:00 International Business and National Labour
Chair: Alex Balch (Liverpool)

Justus Nipperdey (Saarbrücken): In Defence of Workers Against International Business – Cameralists Moralising Commerce in the 18th Century

Andrés Spognardi (Coimbra): Worker Ownership as a Social Good: Exploring the Moral and Practical Underpinnings of the 1867 Portuguese Co-operative Societies Act

14:00-15:30 Slavery and Economic Conscience (part 1)
Chair: Nuala Zahedieh (Edinburgh)

Joyce Goggin (Amsterdam): Framing John Law: G(u)ilt, Fiction and Finance

Jordan Smith (Georgetown): ‘For How Could We Do Without Sugar and Rum?’: Anti-Consumption and the Morality of Production in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World

16:00-17:30 Slavery and Economic Conscience (part 2)
Chair: Andreas Gestrich (GHIL)

Richard Huzzey (Durham): ‘Whatever is unjust must be impolitick & v. versa’: Morality and Prosperity in British Anti-Slavery Campaigns

Sarah Lentz (Bremen): ‘Oh, wonderful sugar beet! You are the death of the bloody sugar cane’. The German Debate on the Morality of the Consumption of Sugar Produced by Slave Labour Around 1800

17:45-19:00 Keynote Lecture II
Chair: Felix Brahm (GHIL)

William G. Clarence-Smith (London): Moralising Commerce in the Long Nineteenth-Century: The Example of Pearling

Saturday, 24 June

9:00-10:30 Slavery and Economic Conscience (part 3)
Chair: Eve Rosenhaft (Liverpool)

Jake Richards (Cambridge): Moralising Labour: Doctrines of Free Labour and Liberated Africans’ Responses to Work in the Era of the Suppression of the Slave Trade

Joseph Kelly (Liverpool): Shareholder Anti-Slavery? Morality and Knowledge in the Joint-Stock Economy

11:00-12:30 (Il)legitimate Commerce in Africa
Chair: Felix Brahm (GHIL)

Deborah Neill (Toronto): John Holt’s Economic Conscience

Kim Sebastian Todzi (Hamburg) Between ‘perishable effects’ and ‘sharp stimulant to elevate culture’. The Debate on Liquor Trade in Cameroon and Togo 1884-1914

12:30-13:30 Final Discussion
Chair: Andreas Eckert (Berlin)

Input: Benjamin Möckel (Köln): Economy and Morality: Some Remarks on a Non-Normative Approach


Dr. Felix Brahm
German Historical Institute London
17 Bloomsbury Square
London WC1A 2NJ

Phone: +44 (0)20 7309 2017

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