|Author||Charles River Editors|
*Includes pictures *Includes contemporary accounts of the companies *Includes a bibliography for further reading From classic grilled meat to exotic and savory 5-star dishes, pepper has long been the ultimate staple spice. While bulk pepper may be readily stocked in supermarkets and convenience stores today, there was once a time when the common spice was considered one of the most valuable commodities in the world. Merchants tripped over one another to get their hands on the tiny black beads, which live in colorful clusters of berry-like shells reminiscent of Christmas lights. They were so precious that an uncountable number of men crossed the turbulent and uncharted seas for them. In fact, the tropical spice was so highly sought after that blood was shed over the edible gold. To many, the mention of maritime merchants evokes an imagery of growling pirates donned in their stereotypical hats and a colorful parrot perched upon their shoulders. These nautical rascals wander the high seas in search of treasure and adventure. Though that imagery may be inaccurate, the real life companies that once dominated international waters operated on a similar thirst for conquest and riches. Perhaps the most famous - or as many would put it, infamous - of these naval corporations was the Dutch East India Company, also known as VOC. Established around the beginning of the 17th century, this nautical behemoth of a corporation was determined to squeeze everyone else out of the market. Vested with the power to wage war and exterminate any who dared stand in their way, the rest of the world stood by as the unstoppable force took over the whole of international maritime trade. The company would crush its opponents on the way to the top, establishing a monopoly on the global spice trade that would not only rock the world but forever change the course of modern business history. The British East India Company served as one of the key players in the formation of the British Empire. From its origins as a trading company struggling to keep up with its superior Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish competitors to its tenure as the ruling authority of the Indian subcontinent to its eventual hubristic downfall, the East India Company serves as a lens through which to explore the much larger economic and social forces that shaped the formation of a global British Empire. As a private company that became a non-state global power in its own right, the East India Company also serves as a cautionary tale all too relevant to the modern world's current political and economic situation. Beyond its obvious influence in areas like trade and commerce, the East India Company also served as a point of cultural contact between Western Europeans, South Asians, and East Asians. Quintessentially British practices such as tea drinking were made possible by East India Company trade. The products and cultural practices traveling back and forth on East India Company ships from one continent to another also reconfigured the way societies around the globe viewed sexuality, gender, class, and labor. On a much darker level, the East India Company fueled white supremacy and European concepts of Orientalism (See Said, Orientalism). One of the major reasons that the East India Company remains the subject of intense interest is that the consequences of its influence remain visible in India, Britain, and other parts of the world to this day. While the British Crown eventually replaced the East India Company as the governing authority of India, the systems of production they had established remained intact. More than half a century after India declared independence from the British Empire, the economic and cultural effects of this colonial system of production remained apparent. The disparities in wealth and power between the Global North and the Global South may not stem from the East India Company alone, but the company played an indisputable role in imperial processes.