Institute of Historical Studies
Institute of Historical Studies

Discussion: "The Atlantic Economy of the Late Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century," with Woodruff Smith, University of Massachusetts, Boston and UT Austin

Mon, October 6, 2014 | GAR 4.100

12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Woodruff D. Smith

IHS Research Affiliate, and Professor Emeritus of History, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Faculty web page:

The “pre-industrial Atlantic economy” is a concept constructed by historians and economists that has been widely accepted as a useful framework for historical interpretation.  It has helped to overcome some of the difficulties inherent in focusing historical research on individual countries and has exposed significant economic phenomena that had earlier been overlooked.  There has, however, been relatively little critical analysis of the concept and of the extent to which it accurately depicts the transoceanic economic world that is its subject.  One of the reasons for this is that there exists no clear consensus about what the early modern Atlantic economy actually was – that is, about the array of specific phenomena to which the concept applies.  What were its specific elements and the nature of the relationships among them?  How did the Atlantic economy operate as a system (if it did), and in what ways did it change?  To what extent and in what ways can the Atlantic economy be seen as something distinct from the transoceanic empires of the period and from the early modern “global economy?”  How can one account for the fact that there is little evidence of formal consciousness of its existence in the eighteenth century?  What implications can reasonably be drawn from the nature of the Atlantic economy for explaining other aspects of late seventeenth and eighteenth-century history?

The meeting of the Institute for Historical Studies on Monday, October 6, will consist of a discussion of some of these questions.  A brief discussion paper will be circulated that summarizes some of the approaches taken by historians and economists to the pre-industrial Atlantic economy, expands on one of them, and applies it to the question of why the state-chartered Atlantic companies of the Netherlands, England, and France for the most part failed to achieve their seventeenth-century aims and had to change their business models drastically in the eighteenth century.  The paper may serve as a starting-point for a discussion but hopefully not as its boundary.

Mark Metzler, Professor of History, and IHS Program Coordinator, 2014-15

Free and open to the public. RSVP required. To RSVP and receive a copy of the pre-circulated paper, please email Courtney by 9 a.m., Friday, Oct. 3.

Sponsored by: Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History

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