The East India Company: A History

By Philip Lawson | Go to book overview

Postscript

The formal transition of the Company's interests to the state in 1858 brought to an end the most remarkable phase in Anglo-Indian history. The story of how this trading organization became an imperial power with its own armed forces is exceptional in its own right, but there are many more lessons still to be learned from the Company's unique past. In the general context of British history, the Company's role in the development of overseas trade, the advance of empire and the evolution of the modern bureaucratic state is now more broadly accepted and appreciated. In addition, the immense impact of the Company's activities at the centre of operations in London has at last begun to permeate the written texts and overviews dealing with these years of British expansion. More needs to be done, however, because the most striking and rewarding aspect of studying the East India Company's experience is that it confounds nationalist histories of one sort or another.

The Company, in fact, represented a force for the globalization of trade and cross-cultural contact before that phraseology became fashionable in our post-modern world. Its ships and sailors traded across oceans and continents, carrying products mundane and exotic, that paid little heed to national boundaries, treaties or even diplomatic imperatives. This trade created its own economic universe, inhabited by a mercantile élite and 'oceanic proletariat' that are only just beginning to be understood today ( Linebaugh 1992: 126; Reddiker 1987). The Company formed a central pillar of the consumer society that developed in Britain and its wider trading and colonial world in the Atlantic and eastern seas. The ties of business and credit emanating

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