Dr William Pettigrew, University of Kent


This project explores the relationships between England’s remarkable commercial expansion overseas in the 17th century and the profound changes to her government (political and commercial) that define England’s domestic history in the 17th century. It examines the international and domestic operations of England’s 17th century multinational trading companies. It shows how these companies provided a conduit for the importing of non-European ideas and practices about political and commercial government into England. It uncovers an unappreciated feature of England’s involvement in globalisation in the 17th century: how experience overseas hybridised English thought and practice about government and how this hybridisation catalysed globalisation.


Connections between constitutional change in 17th century England and her concurrent overseas expansion are yet to be explored. This project uses my prior research into the cultural and political operations, at home and abroad, of England’s 17th century trading companies. In trying to project and negotiate English interests overseas, these companies absorbed a wide array of non-European regulatory (political and economic) techniques. This absorption allowed the English to broaden their understanding of governance beyond traditional humanist stereotypes, which involved either ‘despotic’ or ‘free’ regimes, to the conceptual variety and elasticity of commercial, liberal, political economies. In this way, their cultural sensitivity abroad provided the English with greater conceptual and practical flexibility when it came to government. This flexibility helps explain the constitutional and economic changes of the 17th century and the continued international expansion of the English (then British) in subsequent centuries. This project contributes to our understanding of the international, cultural determinants of constitutional, political, economic, and ideological change inside and outside England. It takes early modern, global, constitutional, imperial, and economic history in new and exciting directions by engaging diverse literatures from intellectual history, cultural geography, business history, to post-colonial critical theory.


The project focuses on the East India, Levant, Virginia, Massachusetts Bay, Royal African, Hudson’s Bay, and Russia Companies as vehicles of international political and economic regulation. These corporations provided the ideas, personnel, and infrastructure for all four stages of cultural hybridisation: stereotyping, translation, accommodation, and ‘feedbacking’. The companies’ charters justified their monopoly rights by stereotyping their non-European trading partners as barbaric. Their overseas officials translated the non-European cultures they encountered and accommodated the lessons these cultures offered. Correspondence between the companies’ overseas officials and their London directors demonstrate how the hybrid governance they developed overseas, (in Bombay, for example) influenced domestic approaches to government. The companies provide a uniform institutional and cultural context to understand the hybridisation of governance cultures as diverse as the Fanteen, the Iroquois, the Moghul, and creole Philadelphia.


The project will disseminate its research findings internationally in a refereed journal article, a conference paper at an international conference, and a research monograph. It will also reflect on globalisation and cultural hybridisation with professionals involved in the international policy, business, and charity cultures by scheduling two workshops. These will offer 17th century case studies of cultural hybridisation to focus debate about how Britain might manage its international relations in the 21st century to enhance the effectiveness of British public services and strengthen the British economy. In this way, the project’s research and impact ambitions engage with the AHRC’s Translating Cultures highlight notice.


Dr William Pettigrew

Zoominfo page

RCUK Gateway to Research

November 2015 update: This project has since developed into a larger Leverhulme Grant project, Political Economies of International Commerce.