In the present age of de-industrialisation of the West, the origins and evolution of global capitalism matter. CAPASIA offers a new global history of the origins of modern capitalism that brings into striking view the significance of Asian ports in the Indian Ocean. Well before the rise of 20th-century Special Economic Zones and world financial centres, in the early modern period (c. 1500-1800) the ports of maritime Asia were areas of global trade and nodes of intense economic dynamism. CAPASIA focuses in particular on the so-called ‘factories’. Today a factory is a place of industrial production, but it owes its name to the pre-modern Asian trading ports that were controlled by the European East India companies and managed by so-called ‘factors’. Factories were places where commodities for intercontinental trade were assembled, stored and shipped.
CAPASIA will establish a new spatial theory of capitalist development through an investigation of the genesis, evolution, activities, and connections of over 150 small and large factories, asking: what kind of economic activities were carried out in these Asian trading centres? What were the interactive roles of European and local merchants? Over its 5-year duration, CAPASIA’s integration and analysis of the large archival repositories of the different European East India companies and Asian archives will be the basis for complementing and challenging the current Atlantic plantation-based interpretations of capitalism. It will map the intercontinental movement of goods, people and information across a large number of Asian ports.
Working with collaborators from across the globe, CAPASIA’s ambition is to recast the narrative of global economic change and capitalism. It does so by considering Asian and European economic actors, and their interactions, within the space of the still unstudied factories of the Indian Ocean.