Women and the company: Female agency in global trading companies, 1600-1800

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Aske Laursen Brock


Aalborg University


DKK 1,053,000




Reintegration Fellowships


My project examines women's integral role in early modern global capitalism and will question existing perceptions of the formation of the global economy. As trading companies came to span the globe from the seventeenth century onwards, networks consisting of diverse people, holding both formal and informal company roles, shaped the companies' commercial and social policies in Europe and Asia. The project investigates women as investors, trading partners domestically and globally as well as pressuring the companies for their relations' wages in the metropole. While their male relations and networking partners were away, women interacted with the company in Europe and India to ensure survival and increasing wealth for themselves and their networks, which in turn shaped global markets.


The project is important because it questions the current understanding of gender and global commerce by investigating women's role in shaping global capitalism. Existing research demonstrates how regulatory bodies, such as guilds, created vastly different opportunities depending on gender. Arguably, guilds or companies offered an effective institutional mechanism practically barring women from participating in commerce. However, the porous nature of company networks contained a number of opportunities, which were utilised by women and their extended networks, particularly in a global setting. Investigating women's historical roles in Eurasian corporate networks presents a holistic image of the origins of capitalism and further our understanding of corporations.


I will apply quantitative and qualitative approaches to provide the most detailed understanding to date of women's economic agency in early modern global capitalism. The principal source type is the companies' own documents: their court minutes, letter books and consultations held in London, Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Based on the source material, I will compile a database of interactions between women and the companies in Europe and Asia, which demonstrates how women interacted with companies and how companies responded. To this approach, I will add a more case-study orientated study of personal correspondence and court cases, which, in combination with the other sources, will provide a holistic image of women's global interactions with companies and commerce.

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