The Self-Perception of Early Modern “Capitalists”

Friday, January 19, 2007–Saturday, January 20, 2007
All Day

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street

—a conference organized by Margaret C. Jacob, University of California, Los Angeles, and Catherine Secretan, Centre nationale de la recherche scientifique

The term “capitalist” appears only late in the eighteenth century as a way of describing the speculating or commercial classes. Yet money was ubiquitous in early modern Europe. The goal of this conference is to examine how people who sought to make it, struggled to acquire and keep it, viewed themselves. They operated in cities great and small, in capitals of trade such as Venice, Hamburg, Antwerp, London, Amsterdam, Lyon, and Marseille, but also in Leeds and The Hague. How did they explain themselves; how did they understand their worldly activities? How did they cope with a culture that had for so long opposed material wealth to spiritual possessions, earthly pursuits to the spiritual realm? This sort of “self perception” can be read directly from the writings of merchants themselves (through their memories, letters, addresses) and also it can be found in legitimating discourses employed by contemporaries interested in valorizing trade. Our work has been informed by Weber on Protestantism and capitalism, yet we propose to access a new vocabulary, based on the sources and taking into account also Catholic and Sephardic merchants.

Co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for 17th- & 18th-Century Studies, the William Andrews Clark Library, and the Netherlands Consulate General of Los Angeles

Session 1
Chair: Sanjay Subrahmanyam, University of California, Los Angeles

Giacomo Todeschini, Université di Trieste
“The Theological Roots of Medieval/Modern Merchant’s Self-Representation”

Francesca Trivellato, Yale University
“Images and Self-Images of Sephardic Merchants in Early Modern Europe and the Mediterranean”

Julia Adams, Yale University
“Seeing Like a Capitalist? Assuming and Ascribing Agency in Early Modern European Trading Companies”

Session 2
Chair: Wijnand Mijnhardt, Universiteit Utrecht

Clé Lesger, Universiteit van Amsterdam
“Merchants in Charge: Ambitions and Self-Perception of Amsterdam Merchants, 1550–1700”

Dorothee Sturkenboom, Vrije Universiteit
“Merchants on the Defensive. Conflicting Self-Images of a Capitalist Nation under Crisis”

Leos Müller, Uppsala Universitat
“‘Merchants’ and ‘Gentlemen’ in Early-Modern Sweden. The World of Jean Abraham Grill, 1736–1792”

Session 3
Chair: Margaret C. Jacob, University of California, Los Angeles

Deborah Harkness, University of Southern California
“Accounting for Science: How a Merchant Kept His Books in Elizabethan London”

Jochen Hoock, Université Paris Diderot
“Professional Ethics and Commercial Rationality at the Beginning of the Modern Era”

John Smail, University of North Carolina, Charlotte
“Coming of Age in Trade: Masculinity and Commerce in Eighteenth-Century England”

Session 4
Chair: Catherine Secretan, Centre national de la recherche scientifique

Matthew Kadane, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
“Success and Self-Loathing in the Life of an Eighteenth-Century Entrepreneur”

Mary Lindemann, University of Miami
“From Windtrading to Malicious Bankruptcy: Perceptions of Economic Impropriety in Eighteenth-Century Hamburg”

Cathy Matson, University of Delaware
“Accounting for War and Revolution: Philadelphia Merchants’ Perceptions of Risk and Failure, 1774–1811”