Views from the Edge: Essays in Honor of Richard W. Bulliet

By Neguin Yavari; Lawrence G. Potter et al. | Go to book overview

Trading Diaspora, State Building
and the Idea of National Interest

Ina Baghdiantz-McCabe

This is a brief comparative study of several trading groups in the seventeenth century and of their participation in state-building in their host societies as "trade diaspora." The word state is used here in its sixteenth century meaning of a political body subject to common government and law.1 It is generally held that the three European East India Companies served national interest, contributed financially to state building, and followed the mercantilist policies dictated by their home states from their inception. It is also assumed that classical trade disapora such as the Armenians or the Jews remained outsiders to polity with only commercial profit in mind. The question of any form of national interest remains moot for them and is never addressed, nor is their link to their host society assumed to be anything more than the payments made for a right to conduct commerce as cross-cultural brokers.

Defining trading groups remains an interesting problem, although definitions and categorization can often mislead. Most views of the Early Modern period are distorted by the habit of studying history within the framework of modern nation-states. Indeed even such a category as the concept of trade diaspora can cause a serious misreading of the past. Contained within the concept of trade diaspora, there is the idea that these groups remain outside the structures of the host country, alien and perhaps even at times hostile or in competition to the host country's economic and national interests. The examples discussed below contradict this view. It has universally been assumed, save in one article by Sanjay Subrahmanyam on the Iranians in exile and in my book on the Julfan Armenians, that trade diaspora do not participate in the political life of their host county or in state-building in Asia. In addition a brief discussion of the structure of the three East India Companies, (the Dutch, the English and the French) in the same period illustrates why one can argue that there is less difference than has been established between groups traditionally called

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