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The Globalized Periphery: Atlantic Commerce, Socioeconomic and Cultural Change in Central Europe (1680-1850)

Central European Trade via French and Portuguese Seaports - Trans-National Networks and Merchandise

Sub-project B focuses on the distribution of Central and Eastern European merchandise on Atlantic markets by way of French and Portuguese seaports, and the reflux of merchandise originating from the Atlantic Basin and destined for consumption in continental Central European hinterlands. France is of interest as the by far largest purveyor of colonial produce for the Holy Roman Empire during the 18th century, and Portugal as Europe’s major transatlantic slave-trading nation – with textiles being the single most important barter commodity for the purchase of West African slaves. Therefore, the present research concentrates on Lisbon, capital of the Portuguese Empire, and Nantes, the major French slave trading port. The commerce of both places with Central Europe has not yet been closely investigated for the period of the 18th and early 19th centuries.

While exports consisted mostly of linen, glass and metal ware, imports were dominated by colonial produce such as sugar, coffee, tobacco etc. The projects analyses how Central European merchants from Hanseatic towns and regions in the Swiss Confederation that held branches in Bordeaux, Nantes, La Rochelle, Lisbon and Oporto conducted these intra-European trades. The comparative analysis of the multilateral trades between the French and Portuguese Atlantic on the one hand and Hamburg, one of Central Europe’s major distribution hubs on the other, enables a parallel evaluation of the bilateral commodity flows. At the same time, it further allows for a prosopographic analysis of the agents and their transnational networks involved in the Atlantic trade. These are contextualized within more general conditions such as the low cost of labor for textile production in Central European hinterlands, and subsequently higher profit margins on Western European and Atlantic markets.