From Historical Long Distance Trade To The Modern Global Lives Of Things

Until quite recently, the field of early modern history largely focused on Europe. The overarching narrative of the early modern world began with the European “discoveries,” proceeded to European expansion overseas, and ended with an exploration of the fac-tors that led to the “triumph of Europe.” When the Journal of Early Modern History was established in 1997, the centrality of Europe in the emergence of early modern forms of capitalism continued to be a widely held assumption. Much has changed in the last twenty years, including the recognition of the significance of consumption in different parts of the early modern world, the spatial turn, the emergence of global history, and the shift from the study of trade to the commodities themselves.

Sometimes conferences disappear from view as soon as the delegates disperse. Other times, when the papers are published in an edited volume, conferences come to be seen as important milestones in the historiography. The two volumes edited by James Tracy, entitled The Rise of Merchant Empires and The Political Economy of Merchant Empires published in 1990 and 1991, respectively, move through their various stages of production, ownership, transmission and transformation . Moreover, those stages are overlapping, circulatory and contradictory; objects move in and out of collections, as they move in and out of fashion, and meanings are never stable. When a feathered crown is produced in Spanish America, for example, it has a very different meaning from when it enters into a cabinet of curiosity, and when it is taken out of the cabinet to appear in a spectacular performance in the street or in the theatre, it once again takes on a different meaning. Objects gain biographies; earlier meanings of objects are never erased but reshaped and translated to new circumstances, as Leah Clark showed in her study of the circulations of gems and jewels through the hands of a variety of owners in quattrocento Italy. Such insights have benefitted not only from the global turn but also from developments in the fields of anthropology and art history, making the field more interdisciplinary than it was when the study of the trade in goods focused more on their trade than on the goods themselves.

The Founding of a New Journal

Despite Tracy’s efforts, European actors continued to hold central stage in the field. When the Journal of Early Modern History (JEMH) was established in 1997, a decade after the Minnesota conference, the centrality of Europe in the emergence of early modern forms of capitalism, for example, continued

1 James Tracy, ed.,The Rise of Merchant Empires: Long-Distance Trade in the Early Modern World, 1350-1750, Studies in Comparative Early Modern History (Cambridge, 1990); James Tracy, ed., The Political Economy of Merchant Empires, Studies in Comparative Early Modern History (Cambridge, 1991).

2 Herman Van der Wee, “Structural Changes in European Long-Distance Trade, and Particularly in the Reexport Trade from South to North, 1350-1750,” in The Rise of Merchant Empires, 14-33; Niels Steensgaard, “The Growth and Composition of the Long-Distance Trade of England and the Dutch Republic before 1750,” in The Rise of Merchant Empires, 102-52; The importance of comparative methodologies is also spelled out in the short editorial that accompanies the first part of the first volume of the JEMH. See James D. Tracy, “From the Editors,” Journal of Early Modern History 1 (1 January 1997): 1.

(and still continues) to be a widely held assumption. In part, this can be explained by the powerful legacy of giants in the field like Fernand Braudel and Immanuel Wallerstein.3 Braudel’s concern was entirely with European his-tory over the longue durée; Wallerstein’s 1976 study identified Europe as one of the core regions in the modern capitalist economy as it emerged in the six-teenth century. Regions like Central Africa, India and China were designated as peripheries, meaning that their natural resources and low-skill, labor-intensive production sustained the economic growth of the core region. Wallerstein’s framing of the relationship between the early modern European core and its peripheries formed the base for much of the scholarship of the past decades, including numerous studies of the long-distance or intercontinental trade between core and periphery.

Much that was written also continued to identify long-distance trade as the preserve of either the various East India Companies associated with individual nations, or of the specifically named merchant communities such as the Armenians, the Jews, Wang Gungwu’s Hokkien merchants, or the Bajaras and Banyas merchant communities.4 Such groups appear in the literature as having a clear identity that separates them from other groups and an often marginal status that makes them especially suited to the life of the itinerant merchant who covers vast distances.

And for much of the 1990s and beyond, the emphasis continued to be on commodities traded over long distances, from Asia to Europe via land or sea routes, including luxury items that justified the high cost associated with their transport. Precious metals were sent from the Americas to Asia, silks and spices arrived in the Levant via overland trade routes, and once the Europeans had rounded the Cape of Good Hope, luxury goods like porcelains, precious stones, and exotic hardwoods were shipped across the oceans along with silks and spices. Long-distance trade as it appears in Tracy’s two volumes on merchant empires was undoubtedly seen as important, but as essentially different from the bulk trade in grains, timber and salt that, for example, underpinned the

3 Fernand Braudel,Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, trans. Siân Reynolds, 3 vols. (Berkeley, 1992); Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein, The Modern World-System: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European World-Economy in the Sixteenth Century (New York, 1976). At least 23 research articles published between 1997 and the present in JEMHquote Braudel’s work, and a further five quote Wallerstein.

4 Gungwu Wang, “Merchants without Empire: The Hokkien Sojourning Communities,” in The Rise of Merchant Empires, 400-422; Irfan Habib, “Merchant Communities in Precolonial India,” in The Rise of Merchant Empires, 371-99.

growth of the early modern Dutch economy.5 In other words, when the JEMH was founded, the centrality of Europe in shaping global trade relations, the separation of agents into distinct nation-based groups, and the classification of goods over long distances as luxuries of less importance all still had a very strong presence.

One major change did occur, however, more or less between the appearance of The Rise of Merchant Empires in 1990, and the establishment of the JEMH in 1997. John Brewer and Roy Porter’s 1993 Consumption and the World of Goods was one of those transformative collections of articles that inaugurated a whole new way of doing history.6 Brewer and Porter were not the first to use the title; Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood had already published a book with a very similar title in 1979.7 But Brewer and Porter, and many others who went on to publish in the field of what we might call consumption studies, took the study of the consumer in a new direction, away from the eighteenth-century European debates over whether the consumption of luxury goods was morally justifiable, and towards sophisticated studies of the complex contexts in which people desired goods and in which that desire and demand for goods went on to transform society, culture and the ………… to continue reading click here for full document in PDF format.

For the Silo by Anne Gerritsen, University of Warwick. Paper courtesy of


5 Disruptive Luxury Travel Trends Shattering The Status Quo

With the global luxury market collectively growing at 4 percent to an estimated $1.15USD (€1.08) trillion in 2016, according to a recent “Bain & Company Luxury Study,” coupled with optimistic forecasts that the luxury goods market will pick up this year, the hospitality industry is gearing up for elevated demand among both leisure and business travelers. This amid evidence that, despite widespread geopolitical uncertainties, luxury consumers are redirecting their spending toward new and more personalized high-end experiences like luxury travel, food and wine.

“The luxury market has reached a maturation point,” said Claudia D’Arpizio, lead author of the study. “Brands can no longer rely on low-hanging fruit. Instead, they really need to implement differentiating strategies to succeed going forward. We are already starting to see clear polarization when it comes to performance with winners and losers emerging across product categories and segments.”

D’Arpizio also underscored that personal luxury market brands that “take an omni-channel, customer-centric approach will rise to the top.” Such is the prevailing wisdom for both the B2C and B2B luxury travel sector, specifically, with personalized experiences, quality of service and private booking options serving as primary distinguishing factors for luxe brand positioning throughout 2017 and beyond.

Here how these key drivers will converge with evolving luxury travel trends to greatly influence various vertical sectors—and, in doing so, the marketplace at large—in the months ahead:

1. Small group cultural immersions loom large.
Group Courtesy are increasingly seeking exclusive and regionally-authentic itineraries that cater to small groups. Tour companies like Fort Washington, Pennsylvania-based Gate 1 Travel are capitalizing on this trend with offerings that provide the convenience of an escorted tour with the intimate view of local cultures that large groups just can’t provide. “Our small group tours option has seen, by far, the most significant increase in booking volume–up 50% in 2016,” the company reports.

A City Lodge Hotel Group report concurs that the trend of being “connoisseurs of local culture” will boom this year. It emphasizes that indigenous tourism experiences and cultural immersion will remain a big factor whether traveling within your own home country or jaunting to faraway lands. “We’ll see more people wanting to visit more than the big landmarks and monuments of their destination,” it says. “Rather people are more likely to be interested in knowing about the locals–those that call that place home. Trips to the rural communities will become popular, and travelers are likely to be more interested in private guides that teach them about the traditional ways of life.”

2. Private villa travel surpassing leading luxe resorts.
Today’s breed of private villa rentals have become the ultimate in luxury travel lodging for vacationers and business travelers, alike. This is due to the vast array of benefits and creature comforts it proffers for couples, families and small groups. While maximized privacy and security, uber-tailored guest service and 5-star accommodations and amenities are chief reasons the trend toward private villa lodging is exploding, an elite few have offerings far beyond that don’t just rival, but far exceed, those offered by high-end resorts, including their elite Penthouse suit options.

Courtesy Casa Dos Cisnes.jpgAccording to luxury travel agent Sandy Webb who books elite vacations all over the world “private villa residences offering first class, one-of-a-kind services are ushering in an entirely new era of bespoke hospitality around the globe. They are, in fact, single handedly setting a new and decidedly elevated standard for luxe travel worldwide.”

One private villa exemplifying this new standard is Casa Dos Cisnes–Puerto Vallarta’s foremost premier private oceanfront villa vacation experience. This  10,000 square foot Casa Dos Cisnes property, a five-bedroom colonial style home with breathtaking views of the Pacific that can accommodate up to 10 adults, goes well over-and-above to ensure each guest’s needs, desires, hopes and expectations for an extraordinary private villa vacation are fulfilled.

According to owner Cathryn Arnell, this includes proffering a bevy of premium benefits, including an authentic and stylishly-appointed residential setting, custom-prepared gourmet meals from an on-site private chef, 24/7 bilingual butler service and multiple staff, monitored security, housecleaning services, private infinity-edge ocean view pool, fully equipped state-of-the-art gym, large media-entertainment room, concierge and spa service, musicians for hire, sports and boating excursions, VIP treatment at the city’s leading beach club and most renowned restaurants, and more. “Given that guests enjoy complete privacy and security in the most exclusive area in Puerto Vallarta, commandeering the entire 10,000 square foot space with all of the relaxation, solitude and discretion that affords, the result is a one-of-a-kind holiday providing an unparalleled culinary and luxury living experience.”

3. Higher caliber private jet jaunts.
Jet Courtesy to Sergey Petrossov, founder and CEO of JetSmarter—an industry-leading private jet company based in Dubai, people are increasingly growing accustomed to personalized experiences, so much so, that it isn’t a demand anymore; it is now an expectation that needs to be met.

In order for brands to be memorable, they need to remember their customers and offer unique customized experiences. For its part, this JetSmarter achieves by placing a heavy emphasis on member relationships, with each assigned a relationship manager who is responsible for creating personalized and customizable private travel experiences.

JetSmarter also cites that there’s a very thin line between high-end and luxury, with the difference barely noticeable. “The travel industry is inundated with both high-end and luxury brands, however the distinction is relatively minor,” Petrossov said. “People often confuse high-end brands for luxury ones. Luxury brands essentially need to heighten their levels of service to be able to distinguish themselves from their high-end counterparts.”

4. Next-gen travel tech eases and expedites.
Smartphone Courtesy Intelligence (AI) is another tech trend that will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. According to Advito’s 2017 Industry Forecast, AI has already enabled a range of apps, bots and software that makes it easier for industry purveyors to interact with travelers at every step of a trip to expedite, ease and enhance. AI automates computer processes to work in the same way as the human brain. Natural language processing (NLP) helps computers understand human speech or typing, and AI then applies machine learning to provide a useful response.

Advito reveals that the travel industry is “well-positioned to embrace AI,” and also that the wider travel industry is adopting AI as, for example, KLM passengers are now able to use Facebook Messenger to confirm bookings, get boarding passes and flight status updates. “AI is still in its infancy, but it is in our immediate future,” the report asserts. “As it develops, it will help simplify complex travel decisions, shorten the buying process and deliver a more personalized offering.”

5. Game changing smart suitcases solve perennial problems.

Courtesy Diego Cespedes.Bluesmart.jpgTravel is tough enough in the best of circumstances and is all-too-often replete with challenges. From crowded freeways, overbooked flights, Wi-Fi downtime and generally not having necessary items at hand, getting from point A to point B can be fraught with more than its fair share of frustrations.  Not surprisingly, technologists have responded with problem-solving gadgets and gear that exemplify tremendous innovation and ingenuity both in concept and execution. One glowing example of this is the Bluesmart Suitcase. Billed as “the world’s first smart suitcase,” this carry-on keeps traveler’s belongings tracked, devices charged, bag secure and trips hassle-free thanks to integrated technology that syncs to an associated mobile app that’s compatible with both iPhone and Android.

The suitcase features a built-in battery/charger with 2 USB ports. The substantial 10.000 mAh battery can charge your phone up to six times, juicing up this and any other USB-connectable device from the USB port on the back or the inside. The bag also boasts a 3G+GPS tracker with global coverage to track the suitcase anywhere in the world; a scale built right into the handle that interfaces with the app to tell you the approximate weight of your suitcase; and a remote digital lock that can be set up to lock itself when you step away and to unlock when you return. The TSA- approved smart lock provides distance alerts, notifying you if you leave it behind. Of course, the bag needs to carry you belongings, so the main compartment does provide large space for clothes, shoes, and coats, while a secondary TSA-friendly compartment is able to accommodate up to a 15″ laptop.

Despite the fact that luxury sales fell flat in 2016 as consumers shunned traditional products, it’s experiences—namely travel and entertainment—that are predicted to drive sector sales growth up ahead.  “There is a progressive shift from physical products to experiences, especially in the last year,” Federica Levato, partner at Bain & Company and co-author of the study, told Reuters, predicting that trend would continue. With the world economy poised to regain momentum this year and the penchant among wealthy consumers to spend on travel and gourmet food and wine rather than clothes and accessories, the future is bright for high-end hospitality. For the Silo, Merilee Kern.

MAIN-RT-LO-Tight-2.jpgAbout the author: Branding, business and entrepreneurship success pundit, Merilee Kern, MBA, is an influential media voice and lauded communications strategist. As the Executive Editor and Producer of “The Luxe List International News Syndicate,” she’s a revered consumer product trends expert and travel industry voice of authority who spotlights noteworthy marketplace change makers, movers and shakers. Merilee may be reached online at Follow her on Twitter here: and Facebook here:


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