The French East India Company and the Politics of Commerce in the Revolutionary Era
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Cross, Elizabeth Helen
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CitationCross, Elizabeth Helen. 2017. The French East India Company and the Politics of Commerce in the Revolutionary Era. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation is a study of the economic and political history of the ‘New’ French East India Company, or Nouvelle Compagnie des Indes, in the final years of the Old Regime and during the French Revolution (c. 1785-1794). While this Company has long been understood as a venal, corrupt institution, whose establishment was incongruous with France’s 1763 defeat in India in the Seven Years’ War, I argue that its creation demonstrates how French intellectual and political actors continued to work at carving out a place for French influence in the rapidly changing geopolitical landscape of the eighteenth-century subcontinent. The French monarchy founded the ‘New’ Company as a method of asserting economic and diplomatic credit in Europe and Asia, and it played a contentious role in imperial politics, European diplomacy, and the politics of public debt in the financially precarious last years of the Old Regime. It was a site of economic and political experimentation by French government officials, intellectuals, and private financial and commercial actors who, in seeking to control the Company for their own purposes, clashed over differing visions of not only the aims of French imperial power in the world, but also of the role of the state in the economy. As they debated, reconceived, and challenged the idea of the monopoly company, these actors similarly fought over conflicting understandings of political economy, fiscal politics, and the effects of commercial society, and in doing so, often disputed the legitimacy of the Old Regime’s economic and imperial policies. In using the Company as a lens, this study places geopolitical and national concerns in dialogue with each other, demonstrating how the vicissitudes of competition in the early, global economy could serve to discredit domestic political institutions. At the same time, the vitality of these economic debates, read alongside the Company’s own complex institutional efforts to negotiate relationships with rival European companies, Indian states, and both the royal and revolutionary French governments, shows the Revolutionary Era to be one of dynamic economic practices and experimentation, rather than only one of crisis and decline.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41140204
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