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Appel à contribution "Entrepreneurs at sea : sailors’ trading practices and legal opportunities in the first globalization (15th-19th centuries)" Panel pour le XVIIème World Economic History Congress, Kyoto 3-7 August 2015

Le 17 janvier 2015 à 11h39

Call for Papers ‘Entrepreneurs at sea : sailors’ trading practices and legal opportunities in the first globalization (15th-19th centuries)’, Panel at the XVIIth World Economic History Congress, Kyoto 3-7 August 2015

Proposals should be sent before 31/01/2015.

"The role of international trade in bringing about early modern globalization is generally recognized, but scholars tend to focus on activities by merchants. Seamen were also involved in forms of commerce, an involvement facilitated by the fact that they, unlike traders, always travelled with their merchandise. Hardly any research has been done on this topic, so we do not have a good idea about the functioning of this aspect of international commerce or the way in which bodies of law tried to regulate it. This is all the more remarkable considering the crucial role these seamen played in early modern transnational economic development.
Historians of globalization have become very interested in considering how this historical process brought about changes in more localized legal systems. But instead of looking at ways in which law developed itself to function on a more global scale, we will focus on the issue of how a landscape of different legal systems offered entrepreneurial activities for many transnational actors. Rather than looking at the usual suspects, we will discuss the economic role played by seamen as traders. To this purpose, we will rely mainly on legal source material (from courts, notaries, etc.), in which many sailors can be found. It was exactly the uncertain nature of the international reach of local law that provided these seamen with a framework within which they could conduct small-scale trading. More than a testing ground for nations to each develop their own laws, the movement of people and goods in an international space was a partial result of a varied legal infrastructure. It is through this diversity that development occurred. We want to explore the idea that the absence of a completed legal globalization proved to be a fruitful foundation for an early modern commercial globalization, not brought about from the top down, but rather installed through the economic actions of a large number of individuals and groups from the bottom up."

This session has arisen out of the ERC-funded project ‘Sailing into Modernity’, led by Dr. Maria Fusaro (University of Exeter), which aims to provide a new analysis of the economic transition in early modern Europe employing tools from legal, economic and
social history. While this session takes up a comparative perspective, the core of our panel focuses on the Mediterranean basin, because this was the first area in which different European models clashed, with implications for subsequent global developments. This clash must be considered a crucial element in the maritime navigation which concurrently took off to conquer the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, giving rise to early modern globalization. In this panel, we will present our main results, but we also want to foster a dialogue that will further open up the topic. For this purpose we issue an open call for participants with expertise on other regions to enable a truly global comparison of sailors’ economic practices.

We particularly invite proposals that deal with :
- Sailors’ wages & contractual conditions
- Legal structures & wage litigation
- The private trade of seamen
- The role of victuals, lodging and prize money in remuneration
- Sailors as wage labourers, opportunity-seekers or adventurers
- Role of seamen’s wives and the family in transferring wages & trade profits home
- Participation of seamen in social & professional, domestic & foreign networks
- Imprisonment & liberation of seamen
- Skippers, officers and seamen as ship-owners

We invite proposals which deal with any area of the globe, and especially welcome those with a comparative perspective.

Proposals should be sent to : before 31/01/2015.

We cannot offer any travel or accommodation costs to successful applicants, but the WEHC conference organizers have made some travel bursaries available ; for information, see

For general information on the conference, see