Workshop: Appraising the 'other' in business

sino burmese merchant wife

On the 28th June 2018, Dr Rowena Olegario, co-director of the Global History of Capitalism project, chaired a workshop on "Appraising ‘the Other’ in Business: Approaches, Problems, Sources." The workshop, held in the Old Library at the University Church of St. Mary, addressed the perennial problem of trust in trade but added a further complication: How did potential trade and business partners from different racial, ethnic and religious groups assess one another? Although we have plenty of works that document the trading activities between different cultural groups, there is far less about how these historical actors determined 'whom to trust' across ethnic, racial, and religious lines. What specific traits constituted trustworthiness, and how can we historicise these attitudes and behaviours? Can we discern any patterns that span periods and geographies? A secondary goal of the workshop was to contribute explicitly to the theories about how business people build commercial trust across cultures, when and why trust breaks down, and when and why trust is, or fails to be, rebuilt.

The papers investigated a range of trading relationships, including the East India Company's use of native brokers in Gujarat; the Hudson Bay Company's assessment of native traders in Canada; and US credit men's views of foreign traders. Archivists from the British Library and HSBC contributed presentations on depictions of 'the Other' in their collections. The workshop ended with more questions than answers, leading to a resolution to continue exploring questions about how commercial people assessed 'the Other' throughout time. Planning has begun for a follow-up workshop or a larger conference sometime in the next two years. 

In addition to Rowena Olegario, participants in the workshop included Mehdi Boussebaa (University of Glasgow), Ludovic Cailluet (EDHEC Business School), George Colpitts (University of Calgary), Janet Hunter (London School of Economics), and Guido van Meersbergen (University of Warwick). The archivists were Margaret Makepeace (East India Company records, British Library) and Claire Twinn (HSBC). Andrew Smith (University of Liverpool) helped to organise the workshop.