Continental and Maritime Empires in an Age of Global Commerce
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CitationFrank, Alison. 2011. “Continental and Maritime Empires in an Age of Global Commerce.” East European Politics & Societies 25, no. 4: 779–784.
AbstractThis article calls for the incorporation of Central Europe into the European and even the global history of the late imperial period through the investigation of the Habsburg Monarchy’s participation in global commerce. From 1719 until the empire’s dissolution in 1918, the Habsburg Monarchy strove to build up an informal empire based on maritime trade and the information it both engendered and required. The linchpin in this geography of imperial commerce—the point of connection between the continental empire and the rest of the world—was the port city of Trieste, on the empire’s Adriatic coastline. Thanks to Trieste and the ambition of its mercantile elite, the Habsburg Monarchy became not only a continental power, but also a maritime power. A cluster of politically and commercially engaged Habsburg subjects—consuls, merchants, engineers, bureaucrats—shared a vision of securing for the Habsburg Monarchy a global position that matched its dynasty’s prestige. Austria-Hungary’s ultimate inability to establish coercive economic relationships with non-European polities did not represent a rejection of the economic advantages or cultural privileges of imperialism, but a failed struggle to take advantage of them. From this perspective, the Habsburg Monarchy was a land caught not “between past and future,” as Robert Musil described it, but between terrestrial and maritime understandings of empire. Austria-Hungary could avow its lack of interest in formal colonial activity, but it could not escape the complications of a globalizing and colonizing age.
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