Merchants and Faith: Muslim Commerce and Culture in the Indian Ocean

By Patricia Risso | Go to book overview

4 The Conduct of Asian Muslim
Trade, Sixteenth Through
Eighteenth Centuries

The period of Asian history from roughly 1500 to 1800, when Europeans made their appearance but before the heyday of their imperialism, has generated considerable debate, much of it rooted in ideology. Controversy has had the beneficial result of raising issues and drawing out considerable data that might otherwise have remained unexplored. The debate is not usually directed toward Islamic Asia, per se, but it encompasses Muslims in a context very important to them. This chapter and the next examine the period that has elicited such divergent approaches and premises, with the intention of identifying contributions from the scholarly debate that enhance an understanding of the Muslim role in Indian Ocean history. Chapter 5 will also ask if the different positions can be reconciled.

In 1974, a study titled The Asian Trade Revolution of the Seventeenth Century: The East India Companies and the Decline of the Caravan Trade by the Danish scholar Niels Steensgaard, was published. 1 This book represents an important historiographical position, namely that European presence in Asian commerce was revolutionary as early as the 1620s. Employing effective organization and methods, the English and Dutch East India Companies attracted sufficient trade away from land caravans to the sea route so that they disrupted long-distance overland Asian trade significantly, with secondary effects on regional and local trade. This analysis is consistent with a global interpretation of history associated with Immanuel Wallerstein, who argues that Asia was incorporated into a world-system between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, as modes of production in Asia became more specialized and interdependent, in response to European demand. 2

In 1979, a collection of essays appeared titled The Age of Partnership: Europeans in Asia Before Dominion, edited by Blair Kling and M. N. Pearson. 3 Although this book was not intended to contrast specifically with Steensgaard's work, the title and tenor do reflect a very different historiographical position: before nineteenth-century imperialism, Eu

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