Monday, June 7, 2010

James R. Fichter's "So Great a Proffit"

James R. Fichter is Assistant Professor of History, Lingnan University, Hong Kong.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, So Great a Proffit: How the East Indies Trade Transformed Anglo-American Capitalism, and reported the following:
So Great a Proffit is about British and American merchants in Asia during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and the changes their business wrought. But page 99 isn't set in Asia at all — it's set in the Caribbean where we find a captain peddling Asian wares in Revolutionary Haiti. The captain makes a hash of his trades but still comes out ahead. Page 99 isn't at the heart of the book, rather it explores one of the many tentacles of that trade which reached out from India and China and encompassed so much more, in this case the re-export of Indian cloth in the Caribbean, likely as clothing for slaves. There were many other such tentacles — reaching back to the sourcing of goods to sell in India and China in the Pacific Ocean and the raising of capital in the London and Philadelphia markets, reaching forward to the re-export and smuggling of Indian and Chinese goods throughout Napoleonic Europe and the war-wracked Caribbean, and stretching to ports en route, such as Cape Town and St. Helena, and to side-trades in Mauritius, Java and the Philippines. One of the strengths of this book is that it draws on sources from all these places, putting east-west trade in a truly global perspective.

This is important not simply for the virtues of being thorough, but because of the broad and deep consequences of Anglo-American trade to Asia: it helped re-orient the global North from Asia to the North Atlantic on the eve of the great divergence. What was so consequential about this trade was how it was financed, its new method of funding transforming trade and capitalism in every port it touched. Just how did that work? Well, it might take a while for me to explain here … so read the book!
Learn more about So Great a Proffit at the Harvard University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue