Chris Nierstrasz is assistant professor of History.
Luxuries for the people: Early Modern consumption of tea, coffee and Indian textiles in Europe (1650-1800), EUR-Fellowship (2016-2020)
Despite their universal consumption today, tea, coffee and cotton textiles were highly contested articles of consumption in Early Modern Europe. The arrival of these commodities from Asia during the late Seventeenth century fundamentally altered European consumer culture, as it gave aspiring consumers a sense of a civilized and luxurious way of life at an affordable price. The foreign provenance of these goods collided with mercantilist principles, so European authorities and producers often strongly reacted in order to set limits to their consumption. How were tea, coffee and Indian textiles received by authorities in the Dutch Republic, France and Great Britain? To what extent did tea, coffee and Indian textiles reach modest consumers in Early Modern societies in Europe? How did consumers and the public opinion view the changing habits of consumption? To what extent was the popularity of tea, coffee and Indian textiles responsible for the productive shift towards European control?
Drawing from sources such as East Company trade ledgers and order lists, pamphlets and plays, parliamentary papers and newspaper articles, as well as other government records, this project will apply a global history approach to examine and contrast the consumption of tea, coffee and Indian textiles within Europe in the long eighteenth century (1650-1800). It will transcend current scholarly paradigms by providing a transnational perspective on the consumption of tea, coffee and Indian textiles and innovatively distinguishing between consensual and non-consensual consumption.
Rivalry for Trade in Tea and Textiles. The Dutch and English East India Companies (1700-1800)
During his post-doctoral research at Warwick University, Chris Nierstrasz was part of the ‘Europe’s Asian Centuries, trading Eurasia’ project at the University of Warwick. The project, funded by the European Research Council, chartered the history of the first global economic shift during the period 1600 to 1830. It challenges the long divide between Europe and Asia in history writing, and explores the subject of Eurasian trade in a global context. This project studied how after a period of two centuries of European primacy over production, the 21st Century has witnessed a new Asian ascendancy over the West. Europe has lost the manufacturing catalyst of textiles, ceramics and metal goods back to India and China.
Within this broader frame-work, Chris Nierstrasz engaged in a comparative study of Europe’s trade with India and China in tea and textiles. His research explores how Europe’s pursuit of goods moved it from a premodern to modern trading world, against the backdrop of Europe’s Industrial Revolution and India and China’s displacement as manufacturing and economic world leaders. The global connections between production, trade and consumption in tea and textiles had not been studied comparatively (Dutch and English East India companies) or from a global perspective before. This is also the first time the trading statistics of both companies, including different varieties of tea and textiles, have been excavated from the archives.
In the Shadow of the Company. The Dutch East India Company and its Servants in the period of its Decline (1740-1796)
During his PhD, Chris Nierstrasz was part of the TANAP (Towards An New Age of Partnership) program. This program was mainly aimed at young Asian scholars who wanted to disclose the history of their own region through the archives of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The VOC-archives provided a treasure trove for such research as the VOC had a unique network of trading settlements throughout Asia. All the information gathered in all these different regions for which the VOC had an interest has been conserved in the archives. Until TANAP, these archives had virtually been unexplored by historians, let alone to tell these unknown histories.
As part of this project, Chris Nierstrasz studied another source which has hardly been used, namely the private correspondence of Lubbert-Jan van Eck (1719-1765). Due to his abrupt death in 1765, his correspondence (incoming and outgoing letters within Asia) has been conserved in the National Archives in The Hague. This invaluable and unique source material offers an exclusive insight in the informal world of Dutch East India Company servants. Historians have often seen East India companies as the first modern multi-national companies, but the VOC was still an early-modern global trading company. Due to the long lines of communication and a lack of funding, the VOC allowed ample room for private initiative within its organization. These initiatives made long-distance trade possible, but also hampered the profitability of the VOC. Due to this ambiguity, servants had an interest in keeping their private doings to themselves, which also meant little direct evidence of their comportment exists, although they have continue to have a bad reputation.
Chris Nierstrasz, In the shadow of the Company: the Dutch East India Company and its servants in the period of its decline, (1740-1796). Leiden: Brill, 2012.
Chris Nierstrasz, Rivalry for trade in tea and textiles: the English and Dutch East India Companies (1700-1800). Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2015.
Maxine Berg, Felicia Gottman, Hanna Hodacs, Chris Nierstrasz (eds.), Goods from the East, 1600-1800: Trading Eurasia. Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2015.