Imagine a corporation growing unchecked, and morphing into the most powerful commercial operation in the world, holding even governments to ransom. Professor Huw Bowen, pre-eminent scholar of the East India
Company, explained how this hypothetical scenario became reality in 18th and 19th century England.
In ‘Making Money, Making Empires: The Case of the East India Company, 1600-1850’, a lecture for the Legatum Institute's History of Capitalism series, Huw Bowen explained how the East India Company was an institution crucial to Britain’s Empire and the country’s industrial development. Embedded in the heart of London’s financial district, its influence was felt in every corner of commercial and political life in Britain. Bowen traced the steps by which the Company swiftly found itself in de facto control over much of the Indian sub-continent—and had its own standing army. He concluded that although the Company has been criticised by contemporary historians as a bloated monopoly or a tyrannical ruler, such simplistic portrayals fail to capture the entrepreneurial zeal and revolutionary management practices that it embodied.
The evening was hosted by Hywel Williams, Senior Adviser at the Legatum Institute.
A selection of photos from the lecture are available here.
About the Speaker
Huw Bowen is an internationally-renowned expert on the economic, imperial, and maritime history of Britain during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He joined Swansea University as Professor of Modern History in 2007 having served as Sir James Knott research fellow at Newcastle University and Professor of Imperial and Maritime History at Leicester University. He is the founding editor of the research monograph series The Worlds of the East India Company. His works include Revenue and Reform: The Indian problem in British politics, 1757-1773; The Business of Empire: The East India Company and imperial Britain, 1756-1833; and Monsoon Traders: The maritime worlds of the East India Company. He is currently leading Cu @ Swansea, a major multi-partner industrial heritage regeneration project in the Lower Swansea Valley.
About the History of Capitalism
This new series of lectures, which forms part of the Legatum Institute's 'The Culture of Prosperity' programme, investigates the origins and development of a movement of thought and endeavour which has transformed the human condition. Capitalism's characteristic emphasis on freedom of trade and market expansion has encouraged social mobility, global exploration and intellectual curiosity. Wherever and whenever it has appeared across the world's continents capitalism has undermined monopolies, economic protectionism and restrictive practices. Our lecturers will therefore be assessing case studies in business history and the individual biographies of thinkers, writers and inventors as well as describing particular periods in the histories of cities, states and nations. Further information available here.