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Trading Places Events

Tuesday 25 June
To the Ends of the Earth

Less than a year after reaching Java in 1602, the East India Company’s merchants set their sights on the Banda Islands, home to the nutmeg: worth a fortune in England. But the islands were inhabited by cannibals, and there was competition from the Dutch. In desperation, Nathaniel Courthope was sent to make a last-ditch stand. The merchants were also keen to develop trade with Japan. Their plans were given impetus when, in 1611, they discovered that William Adams had been shipwrecked in Japan some years earlier, and had charmed his way into the court. They despatched a vessel to Japan. However, after trouble with the Dutch, the shogun lost patience with the foreigners and expelled them. England’s quest to open links with the lands at the ends of the earth ended in failure, but it did bring dividends. Run was exchanged for Manhattan, while the abandonment of Japan led to expanded trade with India.

Event time: 18.15 -19.30

Speaker: Giles Milton is the author of Nathaniel's Nutmeg and Samurai William (both Hodder Headline). He has contributed to many newspapers, specialising in the history of travel and exploration.

Location: The Conference Centre - The British Library, London

Price: £5.00 (concessions, £3.50)

 

photo of speaker

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Tuesday 2 July
The Treasure that Went Around the World

From the beginning the East India Companies used gold and silver to pay for commodities such as spices, silks, textiles and porcelain. The treasure mainly came from the South American mines and mints bought from the Spaniards - and it literally went around the world. The trade was a complex one, depending upon the exchange rate between gold and silver, and fashion and prejudice for particular currencies at different times and in various regions. The Companies tried to stabilise the currency fluctuations, to reduce the black market, and inhibit smuggling. The English were more successful than the Dutch, licensing private trade and thereby giving all their servants, sailors and officials an incentive to avoid currency speculation. Archaeological investigations of shipwrecks have provided more evidence of the money trade, the black market and the physical nature of the treasure and its transportation.

Event time: 18.15 -19.30

Speaker: Rex Cowan has been an explorer for historic shipwrecks for more than 30 years. He is engaged this year in excavating East India wrecks off the Isles of Scilly and in the North Sea. A writer and broadcaster, he was a member of the United Kingdom Government Advisory Committee for Historic Shipwrecks for 24 years.

Location: The Conference Centre - The British Library, London

Price: £5.00 (concessions, £3.50)

 

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Tuesday 9 July
Travelling the Spice Routes

The East India Company inherited well-established routes with a history of making fortunes for pioneers. Early trade routes were dominated by the lucrative trade in pepper, indigenous to the forests of India's Malabar Coast. As navigational skills developed, junks came west from China laden with spices like ginger, cassia bark and star anise. Javanese brought cloves, nutmeg and mace from the Spice Islands. Dhows sailed east on monsoon winds from the Eastern Mediterranean over the Arabian Sea bringing cumin, coriander, fennel and fenugreek. All these were traded for the little dried black corns of the Malabar Coast. Venetians were the first Europeans to grow rich from a monopoly in the spice trade. The Portuguese successfully challenged them and introduced spices from the Americas. The Dutch and British followed and competed vigorously for the lucrative routes. In a lavishly illustrated talk, Chris Caldicott looks at how successful the East India Company was in claiming its share.

Event time: 18.15 -19.30

Speaker: For many years Chris Caldicott worked as a photographer for the Royal Geographical Society. His book The Spice Routes (Frances Lincoln) is a collaboration with his wife Carolyn, with whom he jointly owns the World Food Café in Covent Garden. It includes many recipes illustrating how spices are used to enliven cookery worldwide.

Location: The Conference Centre - The British Library, London

Price: £5.00 (concessions, £3.50)

 

photo of sailing boat

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Wednesday 17 July
The Business of Empire: the East India Company at Work 1750-1830

Huw Bowen examines how a company of merchants came to terms with problems posed by the acquisition of territory and the need to govern millions of Indians. He focuses on the Company’s London headquarters - East India House - and the management and administrative changes made to the Company’s organisation and decision-making processes in the wake of the conquest of Bengal. His review of working practices evaluates the effectiveness of the measures introduced by those who were endeavouring to control and regulate the far-distant expansion of trade and empire. Dr Bowen also looks at the men who tried to make the system work: the clerks and officials whose quills helped to generate the mountain of paperwork that constitutes the Company’s archive now housed in The British Library.

Event time: 18.15 -19.30

Speaker: H.V. Bowen is Senior Lecturer at the University of Leicester. He is has written widely on British 18th-century imperial history and specifically on the history of the East India Company and is co-editor of The Worlds of the East India Company (Boydell & Brewer).

Location: The Conference Centre - The British Library, London

Price: £5.00 (concessions, £3.50)

 

photo of speaker

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Tuesday 23 July
What Britain Knew About China

Classical writers wrote of the mysterious 'Seres', who combed silk floss from leaves to make diaphanous cloth, and silk was the first Chinese product to reach Europe. Silk was traded through middle-men, and when the East India Company started trading in tea at Canton such was the control of the Emperor that trade remained in the hands of a few dealers, with Europeans confined to a strip of land beside a river. Missionaries were the first to escape such controls: Franciscans toiled along the Silk Roads to convert China’s Mongol rulers and, in 1687, the first Chinese to visit England met James II at Oxford. Some 30 years later another Chinese visitor, a clay modeller from Canton, was the toast of the Royal Academy. These visitors were seen through a haze of chinoiserie as blue-and-white porcelain, pagodas and gazebos became fashionable, creating a ‘fabled Cathay’ that had little to do with reality.

Event time: 18.15 -19.30

Speaker: Frances Wood is Curator of Chinese Collections at The British Library and author of Did Marco Polo Go to China? (Westview Press) and No Dogs, Not Many Chinese: Treaty Port Life in China 1843-1943.

Location: The Conference Centre - The British Library, London

Price: £5.00 (concessions, £3.50)

 

picture of Chinese man

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Tuesday 30 July
The Trade in Indigo: its Ups and Downs

Indigo was India’s major dyestuff until the mid 20th century, widely used both locally and for export. Although it was already being traded as a luxury to Europe in the Classical period, the burgeoning spice trade carried on the East Indiamen led to increasing quantities of indigo dyestuff and dyed textiles being available in the markets of London and Amsterdam. This talk examines the extraordinary ups and downs of this volatile and profitable commodity, including the effect of imports on Europe’s woad industry, and the way that the political situation in both the East and West Indies was reflected in the trade. The story in the first half of the 19th century includes trade rivalries between indigo and opium producers, when huge quantities of indigo were passing through Calcutta en route to London. The ramifications of indigo production in Bengal caused the ‘Blue Mutiny’ of 1859, and even affected India’s Independence movement.

Event time: 18.15 -19.30

Speaker: Dr Jenny Balfour-Paul is an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter. She travels extensively in pursuit of her research, and has practical experience of using indigo plants and dyestuff. She is the author of Indigo in the Arab World (Curzon Press) and Indigo (British Museum Press).

Location: The Conference Centre - The British Library, London

Price: £5.00 (concessions, £3.50)

 

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Tuesday 6 August
Cloth for Spices: Indian Trade Textiles in Southeast Asia and Japan

The European trading companies were surprised to discover, upon entering Southeast Asian waters in the early 16th century, that a highly effective intra-Asian trading system was already in place. Much of their efforts over the next 150 years were directed at acquiring a share of this commerce. Spices from eastern Indonesia were a key commodity, and Indian cotton and silk became a major trading item for securing them. The cultural impact of the circulation of textiles was an unexpected consequence of this exchange. John Guy explores both the mechanisms of the Asian textile trade and their cultural impact. His interest in this subject extends beyond archival research to include field archaeolgy and studies of textiles in social contexts.

Event time: 18.15 -19.30

Speaker: John Guy is Senior Curator of Indian & Southeast Asian Art at the Victoria & Albert Museum. His publications include Woven Cargoes: Indian Textiles in the East (Thames & Hudson) and Oriental Trade Ceramics in South-East Asia. Ninth to Sixteenth Century (Oxford University Press).

Location: The Conference Centre - The British Library, London

Price: £5.00 (concessions, £3.50)

 

merchants at Bantam

Merchants gathered at Bantam, observed by Dutchman J.P. Cortemunde in 1673.

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Tuesday 13 August
East India Fortunes

British people who went to Asia in the era of the East India Company’s trade generally hoped to return home with a fortune that would make them independent for the rest of their lives. For most of the period covered by the Trading Places exhibition, fortunes were made by trading from Indian ports to the Middle East or Southeast Asia and China. Territorial conquests made by the British in the second half of the 18th century enabled individuals to trade inland, on highly favourable terms, to extract money from Indian rulers and to exploit taxation systems. Many died prematurely in Asia and the ventures of others frequently miscarried, but great fortunes were made, especially in the early phases of conquest. The lucky few spent lavishly on their return, giving rise to much hostility to so-called ‘Nabobs’. This talk examines the making and spending of fortunes.

Event time: 18.15 -19.30

Speaker: P.J. Marshall is Professor Emeritus of History at King's College, London. Among his publications are East India Fortunes: the British in Bengal in the Eighteenth Century and the second volume of the Oxford History of the British Empire: The Eighteenth Century, of which he is editor.

Location: The Conference Centre - The British Library, London

Price: £5.00 (concessions, £3.50)

 

painting of warren hastings

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Tuesday 27 August
Indian Textiles in Georgian Britain

The painted cotton textiles that were imported from India during the 17th and 18th centuries transformed dress and furnishings in Britain. Cotton was practically unknown in England before these Indian textiles appeared – ordinary people wore linen and woollen garments, while the rich also favoured French and Italian silks. The brilliantly coloured, light, washable cottons took Britain (as well as Holland and France) by storm, and by the 18th century ‘chintz’ was the fabric of choice for dress and furnishing throughout the country. Other highly prized textiles from India included the diaphanous muslins of Bengal and beautifully soft Kashmir shawls, both of which were eminently suitable for the neo-classical styles of dress that were fashionable during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Changing fashions and the increased mechanisation of weaving and printing in Europe eventually led to locally made fabric superseding Indian imports, but their influence is still seen in British furnishing and fashion to this day.

Event time: 18.15 -19.30

Speaker: Rosemary Crill is Senior Curator in the Asian Department at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where she specialises in Indian textiles and paintings. Her recent publications include Indian Embroidery, Indian Ikat Textiles and Marwar Painting.

Location: The Conference Centre - The British Library, London

Price: £5.00 (concessions, £3.50)

 

indian muslim

A dress length of Indian Muslim embroidered for the European market, late 18th century. Victoria & Albert Museum, copyright V&A Picture Library

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Tuesday 3 September
Asian Servants in 17th- and 18th-Century Britain

A little known aspect of the East India Company's trading connection with India was the importation of Indian servants into Britain. This talk examines how and why Asian servants came to be brought to Britain and explores their lives, position and status in British households and 18th-century British society. It will also discuss the career of Sake Dean Mahomed, the first Indian author in English and the earliest known Indian entrepreneur, who established the first Indian 'curry house' and popularised the therapeutic Indian massage at his Brighton Baths, rising to the position of George IV's 'shampooing surgeon'.

Event time: 18.15 -19.30

Speaker: Rozina Visram is a historian and educationalist. She is the author of the pioneering Ayahs, Lascars and Princes and the recently published Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (both published by Pluto).

Location: The Conference Centre - The British Library, London

Price: £5.00 (concessions, £3.50)

 

Sake Dean Mahomed

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Tuesday 10 September
The Taste for Tea

The story starts with the Chinese legends of tea, then continues with its discovery by Europeans - including the British who nearly rejected it, took to it at last, and then became a nation of tea-drinkers, reveling in the accompanying rituals. The Twining family has been at the heart of the trade since the very early days. After the talk there will be a tea tasting, giving the audience the opportunity to try a selection of some of the world’s classic teas, from green to black, from China to Africa. This is a rare opportunity to try different teas while Stephen Twining explains the differences.

Event time: 18.15 -19.30

Speaker: Stephen is the tenth generation of the Twining family to be involved with tea, and has made many presentations, not only in this country, but all over the world. He not only benefits from in-depth knowledge of the Twining family archives, but talks with great enthusiasm.

Location: The Conference Centre - The British Library, London

Price: £5.00 (concessions, £3.50)

 

photo of speaker

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Trading Places Gallery Talks
Tuesdays


In English

2nd July
30th July
27th August
17th September

In Bengali
9th July
6th August
3rd September

In Urdu/Hindi
16th July
13th August
10th September

In Tamil
23rd July
20th August

Event time: 18.00 start

Price: Free of charge but pre-booking required.

 

 

 

picture of an Asian and a British man

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Reading Room events
   

18 July
21 August
16 September

Scope

Special evening events in the Asian & African Studies reading room. Members of staff will display and talk about a number of items, related to the history and development of the East India Company, which are not included in the exhibition. The Reading Room also contains a number of busts and paintings of interest.

Event time: 17.30-18.30
Please meet in the Library's main entrance hall at 17.20

Price: Free event but prebooking required

 

 

 

Oriental & India Office Collections Reading Room

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