Cosmopolitanism and the world of trade

In 2006, Margaret Jacob defined cosmopolitanism as 'the ability to experience people of different nations, creeds and colours with pleasure, curiosity and interest, and not with suspicion, disdain, or simply a disinterest that could occasionally turn into loathing’.3 This definition is partly rooted in the work by Karen O'Brien, who emphasized the connection between intellectuals participating in the Enlightenment and the development of a concept of cosmopolitan history.4 Jacob, however, moved beyond O’Brien’s framework by emphasizing the personal character of the cosmopolitans and their attitudes towards the outside world, rather than their role in a specific intellectual development that can be classified as cosmopolitan. In this sense, Jacob’s work has deeply influenced the conceptualization of cosmopolitanism as being rooted in the transnationality of (multiple) exchanges.5

The idea, rather than well-defined concept, of cosmopolitanism has also been widely adopted by Early Modern historians interested in merchants, trading communities and commercial settings. Ashin Das Gupta, for example, introduced the environment in which merchants in the Indian Ocean operated in a cosmopolitan space, where cross-culturalism, transnationality, cooperation, but also competition and violence were all co-existing categories to be reckoned with by those seeking to be successful in trading in and around the Indian Ocean.6 A similar opinion was voiced by Bernard Bailyn about the Atlantic. When considering the major themes surrounding the concept of Atlantic history, he made the case for the importance of ‘Atlantic cosmopolitanism' as a key to understanding commercial and intellectual exchanges in the Atlantic basin.7 Other historians have simultaneously classified specific ports as places where cosmopolitan merchant communities settled as essential elements of economic exchanges and intellectual progress.8 Collectively, these works reflect Jean-Jacques Rosseau’s impression of merchants who, he claimed, 'ne réside plus que dans quelques grandes âmes cosmopolites, qui franchissent les barrières imaginaires qui séparent les peuples, et qui, à l’exemple de l’être souverain qui les a créées, embrassent tout le genre humain dans leur bienveillance’.9

Even, however, if there would appear to be a consensus that merchant cosmopolitanism existed and that its analysis is concomitant to the thoughts and actions of individuals and communities, few voices have questioned the role that a concept such as cosmopolitanism may play in explaining the success, placement and development of specific merchant firms, networks and communities, and the extent to which cosmopolitanism is used as a concept for translating knowledge transference, adaptability and hybridity of professional and economic behaviour.10 This chapter looks at the firm De Bruijn & Cloots, a Dutch firm in Lisbon in the early eighteenth century, in order to examine the needs and utility of the concept of cosmopolitanism as applied to the study of Early Modern firms.

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