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


In These Days Of Alternative Fact And Secrecy It Is Difficult To Hold On To Truth

The shape of truth is often difficult to discern. It bends and shifts or is manipulated to suit a particular narrative. Facts become the object of debate when power is at stake. Corruption breeds untruths. While objective concepts do not require belief in order to exist, we can not grasp what we simply do not know. In these days of alternative fact and secrecy, it is difficult to hold on to what constitutes truth. We are told by those on high to avert our eyes and ears while purveyors of truth are silenced. John Dalberg-Acton bequeathed these words to the world, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Richard Vine is the managing editor of Art in America.
Richard Vine is the managing editor of Art in America.

Richard Vine, art critic and managing editor of Art in America has recently penned his first novel. SoHo Sins follows the pulp tradition right down to the cover art created by Robert McGuire, one of the greats of noir cover art in the 1950s. The novel deals with the corruption of innocence by way of a murder mystery and harkens back to the 90s heyday for the art world in SoHo. Vine has also curated multiple exhibits including “Darkness Visible” in Beijing, China and “Golden Selections” in Iceland. Vine’s second novel will take on the political crimes enacted at Kent State when the National Guard opened fire on demonstrating students wounding nine and killing four. He was a student at Kent State at the time and witnessed this incident.

Installation View, Cynthia Greig's “Making Mischief” at Center Galleries, College for Creative Studies, Detroit, MI photo credit: Alex Gingrow
Installation View, Cynthia Greig’s “Making Mischief” at Center Galleries, College for Creative Studies, Detroit, MI photo credit: Alex Gingrow

Cynthia Greig is a native of Detroit. Her studio sits north of the famed 8 Mile. She says of her home city that while there is a great diversity of opinion, even in the midst of decay those who truly know the city could see the inherent beauty of the place. Her art takes on the topic of exhibitionism, investigating and deconstructing the concept of the white cube gallery space and breaking it down to its essential parts. She has watched the scale of galleries grow exponentially from white cube to international powerhouses and examined how this affects the value of the art within. Her art explores these themes often depicting interruptions in the pristine facade of the gallery space.

Additional interviews include: Nate HarrisonChristopher Richmond, and Melissa Stern.

tequila mockingbird bookWhile we can not ever know absolute reality, we can look at it from every angle and make informed decisions. What are you reading to shape your own reality? Tequila Mockingbird is a book written by Carter Ratcliffe, friend and colleague to Richard Vine, that bears witness to Russian oligarchy through the vapid eyes of a supermodel. Cynthia Greig balances intake of the barrage of political news with American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation by Erik Rutkow. Add your titles to our reading list here.

FIGMENT NYC invites artists to submit their proposals for an annual mini golf course. Artists create large, interactive installation pieces at Governor’s Island, New York to be enjoyed by the public. Deadline for submissions is March 10 and artists must be able to participate in installation during late May. All proposals must include an estimated budget.

For some, truth is malleable and to be used in order to bolster a particuclar need. We must always strive to stay awake, demanding transparent truths and examining from every angle. We must raise our eyes and our voices, crying out until the truth is spoken loud and clear. For the Silo, Brainard Carey.

Brainard  is currently giving free webinars on how to write a better Artist bio and statement and how to get a show in a gallery – you can register for that live webinar and ask questions live by clicking here.

Former Obese Alcoholic and Addict ran Boston Marathon Four times in a row

David Clark 2Twenty-seven thousand athletes ran the last Boston Marathon.  However, one man ran it four times … four times in one day. David Clark is a former 320-pound alcoholic who was also addicted to painkillers.  He’s been sober for nearly a decade and credits extreme endurance sports for his path to recovery in his bestselling autobiography, Out There: A Story of Ultra Recovery.

Clark runs with purpose and his 24 hour, 17 minute Quad Boston (104.8 miles) was no exception. He began his quad marathon in downtown Boston where he ran for people struggling to overcome addiction.  Then he ran to the finish line for people who have conquered addiction.  Then he ran back to the start line for the families of addicts and finally he ran his official race in memory of a Boston girl who died last year of a drug overdose.

While Clark’s life story is about his addiction, his lessons learned easily transfer to others, providing inspiration to never give up despite life’s challenges. “Healthy mind and body is where I found peace,” says Clark.  “My hope is that people are able to see, through my story, that there are no boundaries to what we can achieve.”

David Clark is a running coach, sponsored runner, inspirational speaker, and gym owner. Prior to running his Quad Boston, he has competed in some of the most difficult endurance races on the planet. David is considered an elite athlete and is well respected in the national running community.

For more information, visit: or email:

Out There:  A Story of Ultra Recovery By David Clark

Publisher:  CreateSpace Available at

ISBN-10: 1499721196 ISBN-13: 978-1499721195

Book Excerpt


Marshall Ulrich, extreme endurance athlete, speaker, and author of Running on Empty: “[The book] …is as jarring and intense as it is motivating and uplifting.”

Ross Harrington: “…raw and riveting—a real-life “Rocky” story about a guy who just refused to give up. David Clark pulls no punches in telling us what he’s been through, and it will be a long, long time before I get this book out of my head.”

Marlin Keesler “The Reluctant Runner”: “To say David Clark’s story is inspiring would be an understatement. His personal narrative is so captivating, gripping, and energizing it compels one to revisit abandoned aspirations and to get out and achieve them…”

Dean Karnazes, endurance athlete and NY Times bestselling author: “David Clark has overcome adversities most of us can’t even begin to fathom. Morbidly obese, hopelessly addicted to drugs and alcohol, he not only turned his life around but went on to complete the world’s toughest footrace, the 135-mile Badwater ultramarathon. Inspiring and engaging, [the book] is a dramatic story about dealing with profound difficulties and having the strength and courage to persist, endure and prevail no matter how badly the odds are stacked against you.”

Justin McCune: “If nothing else David tells his story with an air of honesty not often seen! His story will take you to rock bottom of alcohol addiction, and lift you back up to the essence of living for the moment!”

Charlie Engle, athlete and author:  “David has an undeniable energy as both a runner and a sober man. He sets a stellar example for anyone who wants to take charge of their own life and make a difference in others’ lives. He is all out, all the time. I love this book.”

Click to view on I-tunes
Click to view on I-tunes

I’ve Seen All Good People – Ex-Yes Frontman Jon Anderson

Any veteran professional athlete who has performed at a high level for many, many years knows that a career threatening setback can occur at almost anytime. Given a long and reliable service to his team, he can reasonably be assured that if something grave happens, he’ll be allowed a chance to reclaim his position once back to good health.

Not so for lead singer Jon Anderson of classic 70’s progressive rock band Yes. Anderson was struck down in 2008 with an acute respiratory failure that left him without his voice and close to death. His band mates, eager to cash in on a reunion tour, cast him aside and scoured Youtube for a replacement. They captured Benoit David, a Canadian and singer for Yes tribute band Close to the Edge, and they went on their merry way. Fans cried foul and Anderson was left miffed and alone to face his illness.

That unfortunate story made Anderson’s August solo show and return to health at Festival of Friends in Hamilton all the more triumphant. Armed with only his magical voice, an acoustic guitar and his supportive wife side-stage, at age 66 Anderson showed us all that he can still deliver the powerfully high alto vocals that personified the original Yes sound. He ran through a 15 song set that included Yours is No Disgrace, Owner of a Lonely Heart, I’ve Seen All Good People and the mega-hit Roundabout among many others.

Stripped of the power of his supporting players, Anderson re-invented the songs- exposing the soul of each one at its very core. It was a magical show and although Anderson’s tenuous situation with Yes is quite well documented, he took nothing but the high road when interacting with the audience between songs. He only expressed gratitude for getting his health and voice back, and more thanks for all the support afforded him by those that truly loved him at time when he was deathly ill.

Anderson earned enormous applause from an appreciative audience throughout the entire set. It was a wonderful sight to witness at the end of the night- a waving Anderson beaming from ear to ear- a man betrayed leaving the stage with the most important thing of all- his integrity intact. I’ve Seen All Good People by Silo contributor and songwriter/performer John McIntosh.

Go check out his new video “Together’s All We Got” and feel free to ‘like’ Johnny Mac’s Music Kitchen on facebook.”  Silo Direct Link to Johnny Macs Music Kitchen on Youtube and Silo Direct Link to Johnny Macs Music Kitchen on Facebook CP