The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India

The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India

The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India

The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India

Synopsis

Almost since the event itself in 1757, the English East India Company's victory over the forces of thenawabof Bengal and the territorial acquisitions that followed has been perceived as the moment when the British Empire in India was born. Examining the Company's political and intellectual history in the century prior to this supposed transformation,The Company-Staterethinks this narrative and the nature of the early East India Company itself.
In this book, Philip J. Stern reveals the history of a corporation concerned not simply with the bottom line but also with the science of colonial governance. Stern demonstrates how Company leadership wrestled with typical early modern problems of political authority, such as the mutual obligations of subjects and rulers; the relationships among law, economy, and sound civil and colonial society; the constitution of civic institutions ranging from tax collection and religious practice to diplomacy and warmaking; and the nature of jurisdiction and sovereignty over people, territory, and the sea. Their ideas emerged from abstract ideological, historical, and philosophical principles and from the real-world entanglements of East India Company employees and governors with a host of allies, rivals, and polyglot populations in their overseas plantations. As the Company shaped this colonial polity, it also confronted shifting definitions of state and sovereignty across Eurasia that ultimately laid the groundwork for the Company's incorporation into the British empire and state through the eighteenth century.
Challenging traditional distinctions between the commercial and imperial eras in British India, as well as a colonial Atlantic world and a "trading world" of Asia,The Company-Stateoffers a unique perspective on the fragmented nature of state, sovereignty, and empire in the early modern world.

Excerpt

Over the decade that has spanned from the first conception of this project to its ultimate conclusion in this book, the East India Company has enjoyed a posthumous quartercentenary, museum exhibits, specialist and general histories, and collected volumes. Its name has been attached to a line of tropical clothing and the Company itself resurrected in a London shop selling high-end foodstuffs including, of all things, tea. There is now an East India Company video game, and the Company was cast as the corporate archvillain in the final two blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean movies. In the meantime, the Company, long of interest to British imperial historians, has experienced an academic resurgence, from the history of British domestic culture to its diffusion in the Atlantic and elsewhere.

Clearly, given the great contemporary concerns, both political and historiographical, with globalization, multinational corporations, private mercenaries and outsourced warfare, colonialism and neocolonialism, and, of course, pirates, the renewed interest in the Company should be unsurprising. Yet, amid all this publicity, there still seems to be one fundamental assumption about the Company itself that has been near impossible to shake: that it was essentially a trading corporation, which became an empire only with its acquisition of territory in the middle of the eighteenth century. The understanding of its early history as an institution has thus tended to be focused on its roles in commerce or domestic politics, its driving motivations and institutional culture summarized in the words uttered by the Company’s fictive representative in that final Pirates of the Caribbean film, just before he was blown to bits: “It’s nothing personal … It’s just good business.” This vision of the Company is rooted in, and reinforces, some deeply seated and enduring chronological, geographical, and conceptual divisions in the historiography of the British Empire, between a “trading” and “imperial” period in British India, “first” and “second” British empires, a colonial Atlantic and a commercial Asia, and the state, on the one hand, and the variety . . .

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