Current Issue Article Abstracts
Summer 2017 Vol. 17.3
While empire and travel writing have provided fertile terrain for explorations of race, gender, and the colonial archive, analytical approaches associated with the cultural turn have only marginally impacted the writing of seventeenth-century English and Dutch East India Company histories. A more sustained interdisciplinary approach to the early East India Company (1600–1857) and Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (1602–1799) can enrich the field of Company studies and connect it more fully to the latest debates in global history. This article comprises a historiographical survey followed by a discussion of the rich potential that the archives of the East India companies hold for cultural analysis. It asserts that scrutiny of the ethnographic content of English and Dutch Company writing serves both as a means to investigate the mental worlds of Company agents and to comprehend the social worlds they inhabited. Such analysis brings out the discursive borrowings between different colonial formations and helps us understand how texts produced in one location shaped ideas and perceptions in others. The article argues that it is this cultural component, largely overlooked in the existing literature, that should be taken into account when writing the histories of the seventeenth-century East India companies.
The East India Company, one of the earliest joint-stock enterprises, helped revolutionize English economic structures. Although recent years have seen a surge of interest in its early history, the native traders and translators who formed the front lines of the East India Company's operations—acquainting the English merchants with mercantile and social systems in Mughal India—often escape scholarly attention. Turning to Company court minutes, the letters of Sir Thomas Roe, and other public as well as private records, this paper explores the circuits of knowledge that were established between the English merchants and their Indian associates. As local informants, they aided in the Western construction of an Indian imaginary that often went beyond older epistemic stereotypes of Asians. Simultaneously, the Company became responsible for the well-being of these Indians. The complex relationships between Indian brokers, translators, and the Company suggest how gossip, trade, and translation became interrelated categories. In particular, this essay follows the East India Company's exchanges with Jadow, one of the very first Indian brokers to work with the Company. These Anglo-Mughal encounters allow us to better understand the circuits of collaboration and conflict that marked the inaugural years of the Company's activities in the Indian subcontinent.
This article looks at the multilingual environment of the English East India Company (EIC) trading post in Japan, 1613–23. Reconstructing the linguistic world of early EIC merchants in Southeast Asia may appear straightforward: the primary lingua francas across the Asian seaboard were Portuguese and Malay. But knowledge of these two languages alone was not enough to conduct business at trading posts in dozens of locations across a region where more than two thousand languages were spoken. To form a complete picture of the linguistic environment of EIC merchants in the East Indies, together with an understanding of the linguistic competence of the English merchants, direct references to language use must be supplemented with indirect evidence drawn from the linguistic record. EIC merchants' letters are full of loanwords and borrowed phrases from foreign languages. An analysis of these words and phrases using quantitative methods borrowed from corpus linguistics bolsters the results gained from the qualitative analysis of the texts in their social contexts. These joined results yield new insights into the daily lives of EIC merchants and open a neglected avenue of investigation into the voluminous records of the English East India Company.
This essay examines the East India Company's internal debate over whether the wives of high-ranking workers should be permitted to accompany their husbands on their voyages abroad, focusing on the arguments made in response to such a request by Captain and Mrs. Keeling in 1614. It argues that in contrast to the poetry and drama of the time, which imagined English adventurers as the bridegroom of a feminized East, East India Company records manifest a desire projected inward: Company masters coveted servants who were wedded solely to the Company and its need for profit. The fact that such servants already had spouses made for an uncomfortable menage à trois as a Company that demanded the undivided devotion of its servants' bodies and minds was forced to confront the physical and emotional needs of the men that served them. By highlighting an early episode in the continuously vexed marriage of corporate profit and the human body, this essay contends that the Company's fleshly, as opposed to corporate, embodiment in the form of its agents abroad proved a continuing and intractable problem for Company masters as they sought to project economic and political power into the East.