Global Perspectives on Early Modern Germany and Switzerland
German and Swiss protagonists have assumed an increasingly important role in global history, both as researchers and research objects. As far as the early modern period is concerned, the focus has been far more frequently directed outward; that is, due to the ephemeral nature and small number of early modern German trading companies and colonies, research has primarily looked at members of European trading companies from the Holy Roman Empire and Switzerland, at German merchants, shipowners, and bankers in European trading metropolises, and at German and Swiss explorers, emigrants, adventurers, and plantation owners overseas.
Yet, there is another question that is only gradually coming to the fore, namely whether or to what extent the Holy Roman Empire and the Swiss Confederation themselves were changed by these multiple global experiences and what effects global historical contexts have for the study of the Holy Roman Empire and Switzerland at both the local and territorial level.
Research on economic history has made the most progress in this regard: For example, it has shown that linen, which was traded in exchange for slaves, was by far the most important early modern German export commodity, that its labor-intensive production provided thousands of workers with wages and additional income, and that their increased purchasing power led to significant population growth in the eighteenth century. In some proto-industrial regions, living conditions improved to such an extent that even broader segments of the population were able to purchase previously unaffordable luxury goods such as sugar and coffee.
For many other fields, such studies are still pending. Given this state of the research, we ask about the repercussions for early modern globalization on the Holy Roman Empire and the Swiss Confederation and at the same time present new examples, fields, and aspects of this process.
This paper examines the German market for global rarities around 1600. It uses the anthropologist Alfred Gell’s work to argue that printed travel reports formed an “agentive nexus” in Germany at this time, which lent meaning to the presence and value of global goods. Collecting was by no means simply a matter of accumulating curiosities for the world of parlors. An analysis of the correspondence of art agent Philipp Hainhofer highlights new spaces for experimentation with global materials.
Renate Dürr will speak about Joseph Stöcklein’s Neue[n] Welt-Bott, a collection of Jesuit missionary reports and treatises addressed to a religiously diverse readership in the eighteenth century. One of the Graz Jesuit’s chief objectives was to emphasize and celebrate the German contribution to European expansion. Drawing on recent research into the global dimensions of early modern German history, the paper will examine the question of whether and to what extent Stöcklein’s work may be interpreted as a (proto-)colonialist identity-forming discourse.
Susanna Burghartz asks about the direct and indirect participation of Baslers in English, Dutch, or Danish colonial endeavors. The repercussions of their experiences for the urban economy and society will be analyzed. Specific case studies will be used to examine the effects of early globalization on the largest Swiss city of the eighteenth century. Finally, the paper discusses the extent to which Sven Beckert’s concept of “war capitalism” can be useful in explaining the Basel case.
Rebekka v. Mallinckrodt analyzes the views of German legal scholars on the question of slavery in the Holy Roman Empire. Although the Holy Roman Empire did not maintain plantation slavery or a “code noir,” German personnel of European trading companies, diplomats, trade agents, and individual travelers regularly brought with them people bought as slaves. These individuals did not automatically become free either by entering the empire or by baptism, but in some cases verifiably retained their slave status. The lecture explores the question of whether a transformation of law can be observed through this forced migration.