„Connectors between a Polycentric Empire and Global Markets: Merchants; transnational cooperation and economic change in Habsburg Central Europe, 1713-1815“


Projektleitung/Projektausführung: Klemens Kaps

Projektlaufzeit: 1. März 2016 – 28. Februar 2019

In recent years the impact of trade on early modern economies has received increasing attention, often linked to broader debates of when economic globalization set in. Against the arguments of a certain strand within cliometric economic history that claims that far-distance trade before the railway and the steamship mattered rather little for economic development, this project follows a recent trend in historiography that argues that the tight market integration of the 19th and 20th centuries cannot be understood without taking into account the development between the 15th and 18th century. By analyzing mercantile agency and commercial networks between Habsburg Central Europe and the Spanish Empire through the Mediterranean between the end of the Spanish War of Succession and the Congress of Vienna it will be demonstrated how proto-globalization impacted on economic change in the Habsburg Monarchy. The Habsburg dominions are understood as Polycentric Empire as possessions such as Lombardy and the Austrian Netherlands maintained a degree of autonomy and contributed through their mercantile agencies to the international trade links of Habsburg Central Europe with world markets on the Iberian Peninsula.

Objectives (Research Questions)
Among possible trade connections mercantile networks between the Mediterranean port cities Trieste, Genoa, Barcelona and the Atlantic port city Cadiz are considered. From Genoa and Trieste connections with interior marketplaces and production sites of the Habsburg dominions such as Milan, Vienna or Prague will be traced back. It will be explored how these networks opened up new and improved existing marketing channels for Central European products on Mediterranean and Atlantic markets on the Iberian Peninsula. In addition, it is asked how these far-flung connections contributed to the formation of domestic capital and lower transaction costs.
In particular, it will be studied if cooperation between merchants of the wider Habsburg dominions – that is Lombardy, the Austrian Netherlands and Tuscany – improved the market access of the interior Habsburg lands such as Bohemia or Lower and Upper Austria to maritime markets of global scope. As alternative to these polycentric imperial networks, also transnational cooperation played an important role in providing information, capital and know-how to get linked to the Iberian markets.
Both network strategies could be applied in Spanish-Austrian trade, whereas a possibly joint political and cultural identity on the one hand, would have met with one that organized trade-flows across cultural boundaries.
This implies that different mechanisms of trust were used by these trading groups: the imperial polycentric network structure generated important effects of synergy improving the access to information, common political institutions such as consulates as well as common ways of social promotion (for instance in the case of ennoblement) that fostered cooperation and the evolution of trust between the merchants involved. In turn, transnational networks could be constructed in a higher reliance on family links and personal experience.