Mercantilism Reimagined: Political Economy in Early Modern Britain and Its Empire


Rethinking Mercantilism brings together a group of young early modern British and European historians to investigate what use the concept "mercantilism" might still hold for both scholars and teachers of the period. While scholars often find the term unsatisfactory, mercantilism has stubbornly survived both in our classrooms and in the general scholarly discourse. These essays propose that it is largely impossible to rethink "mercantilism," given its unique status as a non-entity, by looking for "mercantilism" itself. Economics as a discipline had not emerged by the seventeenth century, yet economic considerations were part of most intellectual pursuits, whether scientific, political, cultural, or social. Thus, the search for "mercantilism" is best undertaken through an investigation of how economic considerations were embedded in debates throughout the early modern intellectual landscape. With this in mind, this book seeks to rethink "mercantilism" inductively rather than deductively. Such an approach not only frees the debate from the strictures and assumptions of historiography reaching back to the Scottish Enlightenment, but also avoids viewing the period through the lens of modern economics. Exploring the period in its own terms makes it possible to revisit fruitfully and more holistically some of the traditional component parts of "mercantilism" such as the relationship between wealth and money, the modern state and commerce, economic and political thought, and power and prosperity only now informed and inflected by the questions raised in new approaches and trends to the intellectual, political, social, and cultural histories that populated the early modern world. The goal of this volume is not to abandon mercantilism as a concept but to rethink its intellectual and political content. First, rather than an ideology driven primarily by self-evident and narrow economic self-interest, "mercantilism" was inseparable from the rich transformations emerging out of the rapidly changing early modern intellectual landscape; as such, the study of mercantilism no longer appears solely as a subject of the history of economic thought, but part and parcel of early modern intellectual history more generally. Second, the book argues that the common vision of a "mercantile system" premised upon a coherent, strong, and expansive nation-state is unsustainable. The cornerstone of "mercantilism" has long been the assumption of a strong and coherent state apparatus with the authority to manage and manipulate the sphere of commerce for its own ends. This volume explores the implications on our understanding of early modern economic thought of the recent recognition among historians that the early modern state was rather weak, decentralized, and amorphous. Moreover, the fact that recent research has continually re-emphasized the role of a variety of political communities (not just the state, but also church, corporations, and communities of pirates and smugglers) in shaping public life recommends questioning which polities mercantilism sought to serve, and vice versa, at any given time. These and other questions will primarily be pursued in the English context, with occasional comparisons to the continental experience. Available in OSO: Contributors to this volume - Fredrik Albritton Jonsson is assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago. He is the author of the forthcoming book, Enlightenments Frontier: The Scottish Highlands and the Origins of Environmentalism (Yale University Press, 2013). Victor Enthoven is assistant professor of history at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He is the co-editor, with Johannes Postma, of Riches from Atlantic Commerce: Dutch Trade and Shipping, 1585-1817 (Brill, 2003). Regina Grafe is Professor of Early Modern History at the European University Institute, Florence, Italy. She is the author of Distant Tyranny: Markets, Power and Backwardness in Spain, 1650-1800 (Princeton University Press, 2012). Niklas Frykman is assistant professor of history at Claremont McKenna College. He is currently working on a monograph exploring maritime radicalism in the revolutionary Atlantic around the turn of the nineteenth century. Thomas Leng is lecturer in history at the University of Sheffield. He is the author of Benjamin Worsley (1618-1677): Trade, Interest and the Spirit in Revolutionary England (The Royal Historical Society, 2008). Ted McCormick is associate professor of history at Concordia University. He is the author of William Petty and the Ambitions of Political Arithmetic (Oxford University Press, 2009). Craig Muldrew is reader on the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England (Palgrave Macmillan, 1998), and Food, Energy and the Creation of Industriousness: Work and Material Culture in Agrarian England (Cambridge, 2011). Anne L. Murphy is a senior lecturer in early modern history at the University of Hertfordshire. She is the author of The Origins of the English Financial Markets: Investment and Speculation before the South Sea Bubble (Cambridge University Press, 2009). Martyn J. Powell is senior lecturer and head of department in the Department of History & Welsh History at Aberystwyth University. He is the author most recently of Piss-Pots, Printers and Public Opinion in Eighteenth-Century Dublin (Four Courts, 2009). Sophus A. Reinert is assistant professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School. He is the author of Translating Empire: Emulation and the Origins of Political Economy (Harvard University Press, 2011). John Shovlin is associate professor of history at New York University. He is the author of The Political Economy of Virtue: Luxury, Patriotism, and the Origins of the French Revolution (Cornell University Press, 2006). Brent S. Sirota is assistant professor of history at North Carolina State University. He is the author of the forthcoming book, The Christian Monitors: The Church of England and the Age of Benevolence, 1680-1730 (Yale University Press, 2013). Philip J. Stern is assistant professor of history at Duke University. He is the author of The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India (Oxford University Press, 2011). Abigail Swingen is assistant professor of history at Texas Tech University. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Competing Visions of Empire: Labor, Slavery, and the Origins of the British Empire, 1650-1720 (Yale University Press). Henry S. Turner is associate professor of English at Rutgers University. He is the author of The English Renaissance Stage: Geometry, Poetics and the Practical Spatial Arts , 1580-1630 (Oxford University Press, 2006). Andre Wakefield is associate professor of history at Pitzer College. He is the author of The Disordered Police State: German Cameralism as Science and Practice (University of Chicago Press, 2009). Carl Wennerlind is associate professor of history at Barnard College, Columbia University. He is the author of Casualties of Credit: The English Financial Revolution, 1620-1720 (Harvard University Press, 2011).

Duke Authors

Cited Editors

  • Stern, PJ; Wennerlind, C

Published Date

  • 2013

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780199988532