Atlantic History British and Dutch Chartered Companies
by
Tony Webster
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 December 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0099

Introduction

Chartered companies were commercial organizations that enjoyed special privileges granted by the state, usually encapsulated in a royal charter. Most were created by merchants in Europe between the 16th and 19th centuries, in England, Scotland, the Dutch Republic, Spain, Portugal, France, and elsewhere. Most chartered companies were formed by investors seeking to exploit commercial opportunities in a particular branch of trade, frequently with a specific part of the world. This latter phenomenon reflected the growth of European commerce with Africa, the Americas, and Asia from the 16th century onward, and many chartered companies specialized in trade and other economic activities in these parts of the world. In many cases, the close relationships between the companies and the states that granted their charters reflected prevailing intellectual notions in the period from the 16th through 18th centuries about the nature of economic activity and state power. In essence, these postulated that global wealth and resources were finite and that the power of states depended upon their ability to control as much of the world’s trade and resources as possible. These ideas are summarized by the term “mercantilism,” and company charters created in this period were frequently intended to help state acquisition and control over trade and resources at the expense of rival powers. In general, monopolies over particular branches of commerce (such as the English East India Company’s monopoly of trade with India and Asia) were granted, and consequently chartered companies became organs of imperial expansion and control. This feature of chartered companies outlasted the era of mercantilism, with later chartered companies, such as the British South Africa Company of the late 19th century, being created with a specific remit for the promotion of imperial interests. Leading investors and managers of chartered companies acquired considerable political influence with the states that granted the charters. In some instances this arose because of the importance of the chartered company in supplying loan finance to governments (e.g., the English East India Company in the 17th and early 18th centuries), in others because of the importance of the company in facilitating the extraction of essential resources or revenues from overseas colonies. Thus chartered companies were political and imperial entities as well as commercial organizations.

General Overviews

There are relatively few works that address the chartered companies as a specific historical theme, with the possible exceptions being Scott 1910–1912 and Roper and van Ruymbeke 2007. Nonetheless, they have attracted the interest of historians engaged several different fields. These include those interested in globalization and imperialism (see Globalization and Imperialism), those interested in questions related to globalization and international economic development or underdevelopment (see Economic Development or Underdevelopment), and business historians concerned with the development of the firm as an organization of commerce (see Business and the Development of the Firm). Even encyclopedia references to chartered companies are thin on the ground. Entries in Bannock and Baxter 2010 and Hattendorf 2007 provide perhaps the best summaries of chartered companies, while Goodall, et al. 1997 provides bibliographic references to works on specific chartered companies.

  • Bannock, Graham, and R. E. Baxter, eds. The Palgrave Encyclopedia of World Economic History since 1750. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

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    See entry on “Companies” (pp. 125–129). This outlines the development of companies in Britain, with some explanation of what chartered companies were.

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    • Goodall, Francis, T. R. Gourvish, and Steven Tolliday, eds. International Bibliography of Business History. London: Routledge, 1997.

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      Contains numerous entries on specific chartered companies.

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      • Hattendorf, John B., ed. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History. Vol. 1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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        See entry on “Chartered Companies” (pp. 391–334). Contains separate entries on chartered companies in the Iberian world and northern Europe.

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        • Roper, L. H., and Bertrand van Ruymbeke, eds. Constructing Early Modern Empires: Proprietary Ventures in the Atlantic World, 1500–1750. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.

          DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004156760.i-425Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

          An edited volume providing a number of studies of French and other European chartered companies, which in the process seeks to promote debate about the nature of these commercial organizations.

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          • Scott, William Robert. The Constitution and Finance of English, Scottish, and Irish Joint-Stock Companies to 1720. 2 vols. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1910–1912.

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            Venerable but still useful study of the development of early joint-stock companies in the British Isles, with particularly strong coverage of the chartered companies.

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            Reference Works

            The chartered companies as an exclusive topic have not been the focus of many reference works or websites, but there are various useful works that deal either with individual chartered companies or with wider themes of which the companies form an important part. Cawston and Keane 2004, a classic overview of the chartered companies, remains a useful introduction to the subject and still offers a good introduction to the principal organizations and their basic structures. Griffiths 1974 is a more modern and less celebratory survey of the chartered companies. For those about to embark upon archival research, Balk and van Dijk 2007, an introduction to the Indonesian archives of the Dutch East India Company, is required reading and a vital supplement to the Landwehr 1991 overview of the literature on the Dutch company. Similarly, Simmons 1996 is essential reading for all those intending to use the archives of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

            • Balk, G. L., and Frans van Dijk, and D. J. Kortland. The Archives of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and the Local Institutions in Batavia (Jakarta), Arsip Nasional Republic Indonesia. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.

              DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004163652.1-556Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

              An excellent introduction to the archives related to the Dutch East India Company held at the Arsip Nasional (archive) in Indonesia. Contains an excellent introduction and several chapters that provide guidance on the organization of the Dutch East India Company and its records. Extremely useful for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as academics developing research interests in the company.

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              • Cawston, George, and A. H. Keane. The Early Chartered Companies (A.D. 1296—1858). Honolulu, HI: University Press of the Pacific, 2004.

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                Originally published by Edward Arnold in 1896, this was probably the first attempt to map the rise of the chartered companies from their origins in the Middle Ages. Though laden with the pro-imperial sentiments of its time, this is still a useful work of general reference and for insights into how the historiography of this subject has changed since the late 19th century.

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                • Griffiths, Percival J. Licence to Trade: History of the English Chartered Companies. London: E. Benn, 1974.

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                  A useful overview and introduction to the rise of the English chartered companies, for both the general reader and students.

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                  • Landwehr, John. V.O.C.: A Bibliography of Publications Relating to the Dutch East India Company 1602–1800. Utrecht, The Netherlands: HES, 1991.

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                    Excellent introduction to primary and secondary publications related to the rise of the Dutch company.

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                    • Simmons, Deidre. “The Archives of the Hudson’s Bay Company.” Archivaria: The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists 42 (1996): 68–78.

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                      Useful brief introduction to the Hudson’s Bay Company archives for undergraduate and postgraduate students and others embarking upon research in this field.

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                      Journals

                      There is no specific journal dedicated to the chartered companies, but one can find articles and book reviews about them in numerous historical journals. There is a particularly strong interest in the activities of the chartered companies in the journals concerned with economic and business history and also imperial history. The Journal of Economic History in particular displayed a concerted focus on some of the chartered companies in the 1990s, while Itinerario and the International Journal of Maritime History regularly contain articles and book reviews of particular relevance to the chartered companies. The Economic History Review has contained fewer articles on the chartered companies recently, but this will no doubt change as the focus of interest shifts.

                      Primary Sources

                      While relatively little has appeared so far online, there are a few very useful published compilations of sources, which are particularly of use to undergraduate students engaged in research and to academics for research and teaching purposes. In terms of coverage of the chartered companies, these do tend to be unbalanced, with a substantial volume of material on the English companies and less for the others. Chaudhuri 1971 is a compilation of analytical works by contemporary economic commentators such as the Orientalist John Crawfurd. It provides the reader with important insights into how the company’s role was viewed in its own lifetime. Philips 1951, on the other hand, provides useful compilations of the papers of David Scott, a late-18th-century merchant who plied his trade in Bombay and London. For those interested in the East India Company’s fleet, the website East India Company Ships is invaluable for pictorial as well as written descriptions. Most recently, Marriott and Mukhopadhyay 2006 provides an excellent multivolume collection of contemporary documents spanning a long period of company rule—a source likely to prove invaluable for graduate students engaged in dissertation-based study. Kingsbury 1906–1935, an extensive collection of the records of the Virginia Company, remains a key resource for scholars and students interested in the operations of that organization in North America. In respect of other contemporary document collections relating to other companies, Hearne and Glover 1958, a famous account of a journey across Canada, remains an important and insightful introduction to the hardships of the colonial frontier and early observations of local societies and lifestyles and the impact of the Hudson Bay Company’s activities upon them. An excellent website that provides a good overview of the Hudson Bay Company’s activities is Exploration, the Fur Trade, and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Finally, Law 2006, a collection of documents on the Royal African Company, is also valuable for documentary evidence of the impact of chartered company activities in West Africa in the earliest phase of European expansion.

                      • Chaudhuri, Kirti N., ed. The Economic Development of India under the East India Company. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1971.

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                        A collection of major contemporary essays on Indian economic development under English East India Company rule in the 18th and 19th centuries. With the help of Chaudhuri’s excellent introduction, these combine unique insights into the economic ideas that governed the formation of British policy in India. Useful for undergraduates and postgraduate students of the English East India Company as well as academics researching and teaching in this field.

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                        • East India Company Ships.

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                          Developing website that provides detailed information about the English East India Company’s ships and seafarers. Useful for students, academics, and those with a general interest in shipping and ships.

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                          • Exploration, the Fur Trade, and the Hudson’s Bay Company.

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                            Website on the fur trade and the rise of the Hudson’s Bay Company, containing both explanatory sections and a rich wealth of primary sources in English and French. Useful for teaching purposes at all levels (by appropriate selection of materials) as well as supporting more advanced undergraduate and postgraduate study and research.

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                            • Hearne, Samuel, and Richard Glover. A Journey from Prince of Wales’s Fort in Hudson’s Bay to the Northern Ocean: 1769–1770–1771–1772. Toronto: Macmillan Company of Canada, 1958.

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                              Reproduction of important documents concerning the early explorations of Canada on behalf of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Useful for students and academics. First published 1795.

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                              • Kingsbury, Susan M. The Records of the Virginia Company of London: The Court Book. 4 vols. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1906–1935.

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                                Records of the Virginia Company, together with a still useful introduction to the history of the company.

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                                • Law, Robin, ed. The English in West Africa 1691–1699: The Local Correspondence of the Royal African Company of England 1681–1699. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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                                  Compilation of the Royal African Company’s correspondence, which is useful for undergraduate and postgraduate students as well as academics undertaking research into the early development of the company.

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                                  • Marriott, John, and Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay. Britain in India, 1765–1905. 6 vols. London: Pickering and Chatto, 2006.

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                                    Superb collection of documents on British rule in India, containing a rich variety of sources on the English East India Company, its system of governance in India, and economic interests in India and Asia as well as social and cultural aspects of company rule. Valuable for undergraduate and postgraduate students undertaking independent research on British imperialism or India and for academics researching or teaching in these areas.

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                                    • Philips, C. H., ed. The Correspondence of David Scott. 2 vols. Camden Third Series. London: Royal Historical Society, 1951.

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                                      Excellent collection of the personal correspondence of David Scott, leading East India Company director and chairman in the 1790s. Valuable for undergraduate and postgraduate students undertaking independent research on the East India Company in the period 1885 to 1810 and for academics researching or teaching in this area.

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                                      Globalization and Imperialism

                                      Since the 1980s, historians and social scientists have become increasingly interested in the phenomenon of globalization, in which trade, financial investment, and migration have contributed to the emergence of an integrated world economy and an increasingly homogenized global culture. European imperialism is seen as an important vehicle for this process of global integration, albeit on an extremely unequal basis. In this context the chartered companies involved in international and colonial commerce are seen as early agents of a globalizing international economy. It is important to recognize that in the great era of chartered company activity in the 17th and 18th centuries, the line between legitimate private commercial activity and empire building was frequently blurred. Furber 1976, an account of European rivalry in Asia, provides important insights into the modus operandi of the chartered companies and how organizational features of the various organizations allowed advantages for some of them. Hall 1996 provides similar insights, though with rather more on the impact of the companies on local societies. Similarly, Nussbaum 2003 offers important insights into the various local contexts of chartered company expansion, as does Parry 1971, an earlier but still useful volume. Prakash 1998 provides an analytical account of the commercial organization and practices of the great chartered companies, as does Ormrod 2003, though with stronger emphasis upon the relations between the companies and their nation-states. In contrast to the accounts of the successes of the various East India companies, Prebble 2002 and Devine 2003 provide salutary explanations of the failure of the Company of Scotland’s attempts to establish a commercial base at Darien on the Isthmus of Panama.

                                      • Devine, Tom. Scotland’s Empire 1600–1815. London: Allen Lane, 2003.

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                                        Devine’s account of the development of Scottish imperial activities in this period provides an excellent overview of the affairs of the Company of Scotland and its failed scheme for a colony on the Isthmus of Panama, which could be used as a base for trading expeditions to the Far East. Devine sets the scheme within the wider context of Scottish imperialism.

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                                        • Furber, Holden. Rival Empires of Trade in the Orient, 1600–1800. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976.

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                                          Classic study of the rivalry between the European powers in India and the East, in which the chartered companies of the various European powers play a central role.

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                                          • Hall, Richard S. Empires of the Monsoon: A History of the Indian Ocean and Its Invaders. London: HarperCollins, 1996.

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                                            A general overview of European imperialism in the Indian Ocean, which focuses particularly upon its devastating impact on the societies of the region and in which the activities of the European chartered companies are contextualized. Aimed at the general reader, but useful for the student coming to the subject of European imperialism for the first time.

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                                            • Nussbaum, Felicity, ed. The Global Eighteenth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

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                                              This edited collection of essays provides insights into the world into which the chartered companies were expanding as well the activities of particular companies.

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                                              • Ormrod, David. The Rise of Commercial Empires: England and The Netherlands in the Age of Mercantilism, 1650–1770. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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                                                Strongly influenced by the work of Braudel. An excellent comparison of the Dutch and British maritime empires, which explores the reasons for the decline of the former and the rise of the latter. In the process, Ormrod contrasts the organization of the Dutch and British chartered companies and their respective relations with their nation-states.

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                                                • Parry, John H. Trade and Dominion: European Oversea Empires in the Eighteenth Century. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971.

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                                                  A still useful introduction to the theaters of operation of the chartered companies in Asia and the Americas, which considers their activities in an imperial context. Predates some of the latest thinking on the reasons for imperial expansion, however.

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                                                  • Prakash, Om. European Commercial Enterprise in Pre-colonial India. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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                                                    A useful introduction to the general rise of European commerce in India, which outlines the activities and importance of the great European chartered companies.

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                                                    • Prebble, John. The Darien Disaster. London: Pimlico, 2002.

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                                                      In-depth account of the development of the abortive Darien scheme in central America, using extensive contemporary records and offering an explanation for the colony’s failure.

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                                                      Economic Development or Underdevelopment

                                                      Since the 1960s an important strand of academic enquiry has been the effects of international economic relations of trade, investment, and migration upon both expanding countries and those receiving or accommodating that expansion. In the 1960s and 1970s, left-leaning historians and social scientists postulated that European imperial expansion involved the exploitation of colonial economies, the depletion of their resources, and the stifling of locally initiated economic development. The colonies of South America, Africa, and Asia were thus “underdeveloped” for the enrichment of the imperial nations, and there was a tendency to see the chartered companies as early agencies for this process, a view especially offered by Wallerstein 1980 and Robins 2006. Against such views, Thornton 1998 offers a balancing perspective that places greater emphasis on the African response to European expansion. Steensgaard 1974 offers a more complex perspective, focused on Asia, which considers the way in which the shift from overland trade to the maritime commerce of the chartered companies affected the various regions of Asia. More recently, interest has shifted to the impact of economic expansion on the European economies themselves, and again the chartered companies have attracted much interest. Tracy 1991 in particular is interested in this theme. Litvin 2003, though primarily concerned with the evolution of modern multinational capitalist organizations, provides outlines of several of the earlier chartered companies as forerunners to these later organizations.

                                                      • Litvin, Daniel. Empires of Profit: Commerce, Conquest, and Corporate Responsibility. London: Texere, 2003.

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                                                        Explores the role of multinationals in the development and exploitation of a range of less developed countries from the 18th to the 20th centuries. The first two chapters provide summaries of the English East India Company’s activities in India and Cecil Rhodes’s British South Africa Company in southern Africa. Aimed at students, academics, and the general reader interested in the role of large multinational firms in development.

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                                                        • Robins, Nick. The Corporation That Changed the World: How the East India Company Shaped the Modern Multinational. London: Pluto, 2006.

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                                                          Robins charts the role of the company as one of the first commercial organizations to wield political power to subordinate states and to create a globalized commercial system. Contends that the company was an organ of exploitation and underdevelopment that anticipated the later multinationals. Controversial and left leaning, it is targeted at a popular rather than an academic or student audience, though it is useful to both.

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                                                          • Steensgaard, Niels. The Asian Trade Revolution of the Seventeenth Century: The East India Companies and the Decline of the Caravan Trade. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974.

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                                                            Outlines how the rise of the European East India companies substantially changed the balance of trade within Asia by replacing overland trade with maritime commerce. A major work of economic history. Useful for students and academics of economic, business, and imperial history.

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                                                            • Thornton, John. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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                                                              Considers the role of Africans in the expansion of European imperialism and the development of European commercial interests associated with that process. Thornton offers an important counterweight to accounts of European expansion, such as that of Immanuel Wallerstein, that tend to underplay the importance of African interests and actors in the process of European expansion.

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                                                              • Tracy, James D., ed. The Political Economy of Merchant Empires: State Power and World Trade, 1350–1750. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

                                                                DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511665288Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                This collection of essays offers many insights into the role of the chartered companies in promoting European development during the period and in particular in the establishment of international European hegemony. Useful for undergraduate, postgraduate, and academic analysts of imperialism.

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                                                                • Wallerstein, Immanuel. The Modern World System. Vol. 2, Mercantilism and the Consolidation of the European World-Economy, 1600–1750. New York: Academic, 1980.

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                                                                  Neo-Marxist account of the development of a global, Western-dominated capitalist system. The chartered companies appear as agents of the spread of this system and of exploitation of the non-Western world. Aimed at both an undergraduate and a scholarly audience. This account has been criticized for its tendency to characterize non-Europeans as rather passive figures in the development of Wallerstein’s “world system”; nonetheless, it remains a seminal text.

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                                                                  Business and the Development of the Firm

                                                                  Interest in the chartered companies among business and economic historians has been stimulated since the mid-20th century by the rise of the multinational companies or corporations, large and wealthy firms engaged in multiple lines of economic activity and with interests across the world. Historians have seen chartered companies as forerunners of the modern multinationals with many of the same problems, organizational traits, and faults as their descendants. This perspective particularly informs the work of Anderson, et al. 1983 and Carlos and Nicholas 1988 on the English East India Company and chartered companies generally. Others have attempted to trace the development of modern forms of corporate organizations from the chartered companies, illustrating how the chartered companies influenced later trends in this field. This approach is particularly to be found in Milgrom and Roberts 1992, Baskin and Miranti 1997, and Jones 2000. Others, notably Blussé and Gaastra 1981, Mui and Mui 1984, and Jones and Ville 1996, focus upon straightforward analysis of how the chartered companies organized and went about their business.

                                                                  • Anderson, Gary M., Robert E. McCormick, and Robert T. Tollison. “The Economic Organisation of the English East India Company.” Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation 4.10 (1983): 221–238.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1016/0167-2681(83)90008-2Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Academic analysis of the English East India Company as a business organization, drawing upon theories of economic and business organization. Aimed at business and economic history students.

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                                                                    • Baskin, Jonathan B., and Paul J. Miranti Jr. A History of Corporate Finance. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

                                                                      DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511665219Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                      A good overall text that is principally concerned with the long-term historical development of modern corporate financial organizations. The second chapter has a strong focus on the chartered companies, particularly the English East India Company, and as such is an excellent introduction to the financial and organizational aspects of the companies, particularly for undergraduate students.

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                                                                      • Blussé, Leonard, and Femme S. Gaastra, eds. Companies and Trade: Essays on Overseas Trading Companies during the Ancien Régime. Comparative Studies in Overseas History. Leiden, The Netherlands: Leiden University Press, 1981.

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                                                                        Valuable collection of essays that provides insights into the organization and methods of operation of a range of chartered companies during this period.

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                                                                        • Carlos, Ann M., and Stephen Nicholas. “Giants of an Earlier Capitalism: The Chartered Trading Companies as Modern Multinationals.” Business History Review 62.3 (1988): 398–419.

                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/3115542Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          Groundbreaking article that postulates that the chartered companies were forerunners of the modern multinational company and pioneered many innovations in keeping transaction costs low and in managing global organizations. Essential reading for undergraduate students tackling this aspect of business history.

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                                                                          • Jones, Geoffrey. Merchants to Multinationals: British Trading Companies in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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                                                                            Contains useful sections that outline the influence of the British chartered companies on the development of trading firms in the period. Useful for undergraduate and postgraduate students of business and economic history and academics in these fields.

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                                                                            • Jones, S. R. H., and S. P. Ville. “Efficient Transactions or Rent-Seeking Monopolists? The Rationale for Early Chartered Companies.” Journal of Economic History 56 (1996): 818–915.

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                                                                              An economic analysis of the business strategies of the chartered companies. Useful for students and academics in economic and business history.

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                                                                              • Milgrom, Paul, and John Roberts. Economics, Organization, and Management. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1992.

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                                                                                Milgrom and Roberts draw heavily upon the historiography of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company to contrast the inefficient and bureaucratic managerial practices of the former with the efficient and incentive-based strategies of the latter. It is an exemplar of the use of the historical literature on chartered companies in theoretical models in economics.

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                                                                                • Mui, Hoh-Cheung, and Lorna H. Mui. The Management of Monopoly: A Study of the East India Company’s Conduct of Its Tea Trade 1784–1833. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1984.

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                                                                                  A comprehensive analysis of how the English East India Company organized its procurement and sale of tea. An excellent insight into the evolving operation of probably the most important branch of the East India Company’s commercial activities. Especially valuable for undergraduate and postgraduate students of empire and business history as well as academics in this field.

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                                                                                  Literature on Specific Chartered Companies

                                                                                  In terms of the volume of publications, the literature is unevenly spread between the different chartered companies. Of these, the English East India Company (see The English East India Company) has inspired the most books and articles, though the Dutch East India Company (see The Dutch East India Company) has also inspired an extensive literature. A more detailed review of literature is provided to introduce work on each individual chartered company.

                                                                                  The English East India Company

                                                                                  The literature on the English East India Company is the most extensive for any of the chartered companies, a fact that reflects the organization’s central role in the rise of Britain’s Asian empire. But historians have approached the history of the company from many perspectives, ranging from examinations of the role of the company in British politics in Sutherland 1952 and Philips 1961, to the development of the company’s bureaucracy and governing machine in Bowen 2006, and to evaluations of the company’s role in shaping the modern global economy. It is significant that most studies of the English East India Company focus upon the period from the 1780s to the mid-1830s, which saw a series of major assaults on the organization’s privileges, including its loss of its monopolies of trade to India and China, the cessation of its trading activities, and its reinvention as an agency of imperial rule. There is also a division between those who focus principally upon the development of the company’s structures, activities, and relationships in Britain (e.g., Sutherland 1952, Philips 1961, Bowen, et al. 2006, and Webster 2009) and those who specialize in the organization’s Indian or Asian activities (e.g., Chaudhuri 1978 and Tripathi 1979). But most studies of chartered companies, regardless of nationality or geographical orientation, seek to address questions in all of these areas to some degree.

                                                                                  • Bowen, Huw V. The Business of Empire: The East India Company and Imperial Britain, 1756–1833. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

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                                                                                    The most comprehensive analysis to date of the East India Company’s affairs in Britain, covering its internal structures and politics and its relations with the British state and the people and social groups who invested in the company. Essential reading for all students and academics of British imperialism, the development of British society during the period, and the development of the British Empire.

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                                                                                    • Bowen, Huw V., Margarette Lincoln, and Nigel Rigby. The Worlds of the East India Company. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2006.

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                                                                                      An important collection of essays by leading academics, covering both British and Indian aspects of the company’s activities as well as its relations with the Dutch East India Company. There are also chapters on the company’s patronage of the arts as well as the company’s policies and practices toward shipping and its seafarers. Based on a major international conference held at the British National Maritime Museum in London, this is essential reading for undergraduates, postgraduates, and academics working on the English East India Company or related fields.

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                                                                                      • Chaudhuri, Kirti N. The Trading World of Asia and the English East India Company, 1660–1760. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511563263Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        Excellent survey of the Asian context within which the company conducted its commercial relationships during this earlier period of company expansion. Essential for students and academics interested in the company and British imperial expansion in Asia during this period.

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                                                                                        • Lawson, Philip. The East India Company: A History. London: Longman, 1993.

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                                                                                          A relatively brief introduction to the development of the company from its origins to its demise in the later 19th century. Particularly valuable for the undergraduate student coming to the study of the chartered companies for the first time, or for the general reader.

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                                                                                          • Mukherjee, Ramkrishna. The Rise and Fall of the East India Company: A Sociological Appraisal. New York: Monthly Review, 1974.

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                                                                                            General overview of the emergence and decline of the company, with a particularly strong emphasis upon the socioeconomic contexts in both Britain and India that influenced the rise and development of the company and its systems of trade and rule. Useful for both the general reader and the undergraduate student coming to the study of the company for the first time.

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                                                                                            • Philips, Cyril H. The East India Company 1784–1834. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1961.

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                                                                                              Probably the most thorough examination of the development of the company during this crucial period, with a special emphasis upon the internal politics of the organization and its changing relationship with the state. Essential reading for all students and academics undertaking in-depth study of the company.

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                                                                                              • Sutherland, Lucy S. The East India Company in Eighteenth-Century Politics. London: Oxford University Press, 1952.

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                                                                                                While arguably superseded by later work on the role of the company in domestic British politics during the period, Sutherland’s work remains a seminal text for both students and academics working on both the company and British politics in the 18th century.

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                                                                                                • Tripathi, Amales. Trade and Finance in the Bengal Presidency 1793–1833. Rev. ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1979.

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                                                                                                  The classic analysis of the company’s commercial and revenue operations in Bengal and how they evolved during this highly formative phase in the company’s history. Essential reading for economic or business history postgraduate students and academics tackling the East India Company at postgraduate level or above.

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                                                                                                  • Webster, Anthony. The Twilight of the East India Company: The Evolution of Anglo-Asian Commerce and Politics 1790–1860. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2009.

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                                                                                                    Analysis of the political and commercial interests that challenged the East India Company’s privileges and power in the last seventy years of its existence and how their activities shaped British imperial and commercial policies during the period. Useful for academics, undergraduate, and postgraduate students of British imperialism, and offers some views on current historiographical interpretations in this field.

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                                                                                                    The Dutch East India Company

                                                                                                    As in the case of the English East India Company, scholars have been particularly interested in the role of the Dutch company (VOC: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, United East Indian Company) as an agency of imperial expansion and rule. Boxer 1973 provides the standard account of Dutch imperialism, within which the VOC played such a central role. Israel 1989 provides a more modern version of the rise of Dutch imperialism and the company’s contribution to that process. Gaastra 2008, by contrast, provides a careful account of the rise and development of the company within the context of Dutch society as well as its role in developing trade with Asia. Gelderblom and Jonker 2004, a more focused article, and Lesger 2006 are significant for identifying how the rise of the company and the Dutch Asian trade served to establish Amsterdam as a major international financial center by the early 17th century. For a more careful consideration of how the company affected societies and economies in Asia, Glamann 1958, Prakash 1985, and Jacobs 2006 offer important and complementary insights.

                                                                                                    • Boxer, C. R. The Dutch Seaborne Empire, 1600–1800. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1973.

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                                                                                                      Seminal account of the rise of the Dutch Empire, which provides a comprehensive outline of the rise of the Dutch East India Company. Useful for undergraduate and postgraduate students, and still an important point of reference for academics in the field of Dutch imperial history.

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                                                                                                      • Gaastra, Femme S. Geschiedenis van de VOC: Opkomst, Bloei en Ondergang. Zutphen, The Netherlands: Wallberg, 2008.

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                                                                                                        (History of the VOC: Emergence, flowering, and fall.) Originally published in 1991 but subsequently revised. Comprehensive survey of the rise of the VOC from its origins in the early 17th century to the end of the 18th century. Particularly strong focus upon socioeconomic aspects of the development of the organization. Useful for students and academics interested in the developing relationship between the VOC and the European and Asian contexts within which it operated.

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                                                                                                        • Gelderblom, Oscar, and Joost Jonker. “Completing a Financial Revolution: The Finance of the Dutch East India Trade and the Rise of the Amsterdam Capital Market, 1595–1612.” Journal of Economic History 64.2 (2004): 641–672.

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                                                                                                          Important study of the role of the early Dutch East India Company and East India trade in the establishment of Amsterdam as a major international financial center. Detailed study, aimed principally at advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students or academics studying in the field.

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                                                                                                          • Glamann, Kristoff. Dutch-Asiatic Trade 1620–1740. Copenhagen: Danish Science, 1958.

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                                                                                                            Though not a recent publication, Glamann’s book is still a useful introduction to the Dutch company’s trading and commercial activities in Asia. Still valuable for undergraduate and postgraduate students of the company.

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                                                                                                            • Israel, Jonathan I. Dutch Primacy in World Trade 1585–1740. Oxford: Clarendon, 1989.

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                                                                                                              In this general account and analysis of the rise of Dutch global commercial and economic power, Israel outlines some of the practices and advantages enjoyed by the Dutch East India Company that made Dutch hegemony possible. Essential for undergraduates, postgraduates, and academics studying the company.

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                                                                                                              • Jacobs, Els M. Merchant in Asia: The Trade of the Dutch Company during the Eighteenth Century. Series in Overseas History. Leiden, The Netherlands: CNWS, 2006.

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                                                                                                                Surveys the development of the Dutch East India Company in Asia during the “long 18th century.” It analyzes Dutch trade in a range of Asian commodities, charting the interdependence of these trades. An academic work likely to be of most interest to undergraduates, postgraduates, and academics interested in the Dutch company and the development of Asian commerce during this period.

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                                                                                                                • Lesger, Clé. The Rise of the Amsterdam Market and Information Exchange: Merchants, Commercial Expansion, and Change in the Spatial Economy of the Low Countries, c. 1550–1630. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006.

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                                                                                                                  Academic analysis of the rise of Dutch economic power in the 16th and 17th centuries, which focuses upon the role of merchants (including the VOC) in the rise of Amsterdam as a major global financial center. Very important in terms of contextualizing the VOC’s role in the development of Dutch economic power in the period. An academic text, of use principally to advanced undergraduate or postgraduate study or academics working in the field.

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                                                                                                                  • Prakash, Om. The Dutch East India Company in the Economy of Bengal 1630–1720. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.

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                                                                                                                    Economic analysis of the Dutch East India Company’s activities in Bengal in the early period of the company’s existence. Useful for undergraduates, graduates and academics studying the Dutch East India Company or imperial or Indian economic history.

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                                                                                                                    The Hudson’s Bay Company

                                                                                                                    Strangely, there has not been a major dedicated study since the 1960s of the rise of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and for this reason many of the earlier studies have been reissued in new editions. Among these, several appear to have a continuing resonance and value, particularly for academic study. Of these, Rich 1960, an authoritative three-volume study, remains probably the most comprehensive, though MacKay 1936 is still an excellent introduction to the company and its operations. Woodcock 1970 is aimed more at the general reader but still offers a useful introduction to the company for the more academic reader. Interestingly, however, the company has become an important subject for specialized academic research, particularly in the pages of journals. Ann Carlos’s work, in collaboration with Frank D. Lewis and others, covers a very wide range of questions related to the impact of the Hudson’s Bay Company, from the role of the company in the development of London as a major international financial center (Carlos and Van Stone 1996), to the impact of the company on the local environment and lives of Native collaborators in the fur trade (Carlos and Lewis 1993 and Carlos and Lewis 2001) and the problems of managing the activities of the company on the frontier (Carlos and Nicholas 1990). Some of these themes have been picked up in lengthier accounts, notably Ray and Freeman 1978, which explores in depth the organization of the company’s commercial activities and the role of Natives in it. Galbraith 1976, by an author who has written extensively on the importance of the frontier in shaping the British Empire, offers an important analysis of the role of the company in the forward movement of Britain in North America.

                                                                                                                    • Carlos, Ann, and Frank D. Lewis. “Indians, the Beaver, and the Bay: The Economics of Depletion in the Lands of the Hudson’s Bay Company.” Journal of Economic History 53.2 (1993): 465–494.

                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1017/S0022050700013450Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                      Article that examines the economic consequences for the beaver, the environment, and the Native economy of excessive competition in the fur trade between the Hudson’s Bay Company and its French rival. Academic work aimed at advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students examining the Hudson’s Bay Company and the fur trade and academics working in this field.

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                                                                                                                      • Carlos, Ann, and Frank D. Lewis. “Trade, Consumption, and the Native Economy: Lessons from York Factory, Hudson’s Bay Company.” Journal of Economic History 61.4 (2001): 1037–1064.

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                                                                                                                        Article that examines how Natives’ involvement in the fur trade, and their relations with the Hudson’s Bay Company, shaped their consumption of European commodities. It shows how indigenous people became integrated into an emerging global system of commodity exchange and consumption. Aimed at advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students and academics working in the field.

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                                                                                                                        • Carlos, Ann, and Stephen Nicholas. “Agency Problems in Early Chartered Companies: The Case of the Hudson’s Bay Company.” Journal of Economic History 50.4 (1990). 853–875.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1017/S0022050700037852Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          Article aimed at business historians and students of business history. Explores how the Hudson’s Bay Company, by means of its contracts of employment, controlled the behavior of its managers on the imperial frontier.

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                                                                                                                          • Carlos, Ann, and Jill Van Stone. “Stock Transfers in the Hudson’s Bay Company: The Operation of the London Capital Market.” Business History 38.2 (1996): 15–39.

                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1080/00076799600000049Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            Article examining the impact of trade in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s stock upon the development of London as a major international capital market. Contextualizes the company within the wider field of British global financial development. Useful for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate study and for academics working in the field.

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                                                                                                                            • Galbraith, John S. The Hudson’s Bay Company as an Imperial Factor, 1821–1869. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976.

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                                                                                                                              Originally published in 1957. Galbraith, a specialist in factors on imperial frontiers that drove imperial expansion, analyzes the forces that shaped the Hudson’s Bay Company’s role in the forward movement of the British Empire in North America. Still useful for students and academics interested in imperialism for its perspectives in this field, which reflects emergent ideas on the importance of the periphery in determining the nature of imperial rule.

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                                                                                                                              • MacKay, Douglas. The Honourable Company; A History of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1936.

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                                                                                                                                An early general history of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Still useful for the general reader and for students new to the subject.

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                                                                                                                                • Ray, Arthur J., and Donald Freeman. “Give Us Good Measure”: An Economic Analysis of Relations between the Indians and the Hudson’s Bay Company before 1763. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978.

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                                                                                                                                  A complex economic analysis of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s operations in the fur trade during the period and the role of Natives in these operations. Essentially an academic book, of interest to advanced students of economic and business history as well as academics in this field.

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                                                                                                                                  • Rich, Edwin Ernest. Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670–1870. 3 vols. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1960.

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                                                                                                                                    Solid and detailed general history of the company’s development. Useful for the general reader and students new to the subject.

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                                                                                                                                    • Woodcock, George. The Hudson’s Bay Company: From Trading Post to Emporium—A Tricentennial History of Canada’s Pioneering Fur Traders. New York: Crowell-Collier, 1970.

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                                                                                                                                      General history of the development of the company. Useful for the general reader and students.

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                                                                                                                                      The Royal African Company

                                                                                                                                      This company (as the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa) was originally formed in 1660 to engage extensively in the slave trade and continued to operate in this field until 1731, after which it shifted to the trade in ivory, gold dust, and other locally produced commodities. Consequently, the company features prominently in numerous studies of the slave trade. Thomas 1997 provides a good overall view of the slave trade, in which the role of the Royal African Company is contextualized, while Morgan 2000, a shorter introduction, offers access to some current academic debates. To date, Davies 1957 remains the main text dedicated to the company itself and as such remains essential reading. As with the Hudson’s Bay Company, however, the Royal African Company has also attracted the interest of business and economic historians, particularly in exploring the organization of the company and its business activities. Carlos 1991 and Carlos 1994 in particular examine how the company managed its agents in the field, with Carlos 1991 drawing comparisons with the Hudson’s Bay Company in explaining why failures in this area could not prevent the decline of the Royal African Company. In Carlos and Kruse 1996, Ann Carlos explores the final demise of the company and the extent to which the company’s external relations with other firms, and its own charter, contributed to this process. Carlos, et al. 1998 provides insights into how stock trading in the Royal African Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company helped elevate London to the status of the world’s leading international capital market. Interestingly, to date most interest in the Royal African Company has focused on its business and economic aspects, and one would expect further work perhaps to explore its role in the promotion of the slave trade and British imperialism.

                                                                                                                                      • Carlos, Ann. “Agent Opportunism and the Role of Company Culture: The Hudson’s Bay and Royal African Companies Compared.” Business and Economic History, 2d ser., 20 (1991): 142–151.

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                                                                                                                                        Article that provides an engaging comparison of how the two organizations managed their agents in the field and how these practices contributed to the success of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the failure of the Royal African Company. Aimed at advanced undergraduate and postgraduate students and academics engaged in study of the companies as business organizations.

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                                                                                                                                        • Carlos, Ann. “Bonding and the Agency Problem: Evidence from the Royal African Company 1672–1691.” Explorations in Economic History 31 (1994): 313–335.

                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1006/exeh.1994.1013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          An article that explores the way in which the Royal African Company sought to manage its agents in the field. Suitable for advanced undergraduate and postgraduate study and for academic research in the field.

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                                                                                                                                          • Carlos, Ann, Jennifer Key, and Jill L. Dupree. “Learning and the Creation of Stock Market Institutions: Evidence from the Royal African and Hudson’s Bay Companies 1670–1700.” Journal of Economic History 58.1 (1998): 318–344.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/S0022050700020532Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            Article that explores how stock transactions in the Royal African and Hudson’s Bay companies contributed to the rise of London as a major international financial center. Especially useful for advanced undergraduate, postgraduate, and academic study in the fields of economic and business history.

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                                                                                                                                            • Carlos, Ann, and Jamie Brown Kruse. “The Decline of the Royal African Company: Fringe Firms and the Role of the Charter.” Economic History Review 49.2 (1996): 295–317.

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                                                                                                                                              Article exploring the role of emergent firms in the decline of the company and the terms of the charter as a factor in that process. Useful for advanced undergraduate, postgraduate, and academic study in business and economic history.

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                                                                                                                                              • Davies, Keith G. The Royal African Company. London: Longmans, 1957.

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                                                                                                                                                Still the principal study of the Royal African Company, this provides an overview of the company’s organization, activities, and historical development. Predates much recent thinking on British imperialism but remains a useful introduction for undergraduate and postgraduate students or the general reader.

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                                                                                                                                                • Morgan, Kenneth. Slavery, Atlantic Trade, and the British Economy 1660–1800. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                  Brief history of the Atlantic slave trade, with references to the Royal African Company that allow the reader to contextualize the company within the wider debates about the slave trade. Especially useful for undergraduate students coming to the subjects of the Royal African Company and the slave trade for the first time as a serious topic of study.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Thomas, Hugh. The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1440–1870. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                    General work on the slave trade, which covers the activities of the Royal African Company and sets in the context of the development of the slave trade generally. Aimed at the general reader but useful introduction for students.

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                                                                                                                                                    Literature on Other Companies

                                                                                                                                                    While there are books and articles on the other chartered companies, they have not attracted the interest or generated as much published material as the ones cited in the other sections of this article. There are various reasons for this. In some cases, such as the Danish East India Company, the companies themselves were relatively modest in their operations and in many cases quickly eclipsed by rivals. As a result, Feldbæk 1981 on the Danes remains a rare but consequently important introduction to a neglected field. In others, a paucity of surviving records appears to be a barrier. More generally, widespread interest in the still recent period of British global hegemony, particularly in the English-speaking world, probably accounts for the primacy of materials on the English chartered companies; while the general revulsion and rejection of European colonialism that has prevailed since the 1970s has perhaps muted interest in the affairs of the chartered companies generally. In this context, Ames 1996, a study of French activities in Asia, is an important addition to a sparse field. Haudrère 1989 provides a more focused analysis of the French East India Company specifically. Bethencourt and Curto 2007 is an important overview of the rise of Portuguese chartered company activity. Disney 1978 also provides important insights into Portuguese expansion but is principally focused upon its impact upon local societies. Muirhead 1996, a study of the Chartered Mercantile Bank of India, London, and China, is one of the few studies of one of the chartered colonial banks that sprang up during the mid-Victorian period.

                                                                                                                                                    • Ames, Glenn J. Colbert, Mercantilism, and the French Quest for Asian Trade. De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996.

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                                                                                                                                                      An excellent scholarly account of French strategies to develop an Asian empire in the 17th century. Aimed principally at an academic audience.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Bethencourt, Francisco, and Diogo Ramada Curto, eds. Portuguese Oceanic Expansion, 1400–1800. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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                                                                                                                                                        Overview of Portuguese overseas expansion, with a detailed and comprehensive examination of the role of merchants and chartered companies. Aimed at a scholarly, academic audience.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Disney, Anthony R. Twilight of the Pepper Empire: Portuguese Trade in Southwest India in the Early Seventeenth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.

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                                                                                                                                                          Specialist examination of the impact of Portuguese commercial activity on the Malabar Coast of southwestern India in the early phase of European expansion in Asia. Aimed at an academic and scholarly audience.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Feldbæk, Ole. “The Organization and Structure of the Danish East India, West India, and Guinea Companies in the 17th and 18th Centuries.” In Companies and Trade: Essays on Overseas Trading Companies during the Ancien Régime. Edited by Leonard Blussé and Femme S. Gaastra, 135–158. Comparative Studies in Overseas History. Leiden, The Netherlands: Springer, 1981.

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                                                                                                                                                            One of the few recently published analyses of the organization of the main Danish chartered companies. Aimed at a scholarly and academic audience.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Haudrère, Philippe. La Compagnie Française des Indes au XVIIIe siècle 1719–1795. Paris: Librairie de l’Inde, 1989.

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                                                                                                                                                              A well-received account of the development and fortunes of the French East India Company in the 18th century. Aimed principally at a student and academic audience.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Muirhead, Stuart. Banking in the East: The History of the Chartered Mercantile Bank of India, London, and China, 1853–93. Aldershot, UK: Scolar, 1996.

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                                                                                                                                                                Dedicated academic history of this large and important Anglo-Asian exchange bank.

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