CORDIS - EU research results

The Asian Origins of Global Capitalism: European Factories in the Indian Ocean, 1500-1800

Project description

Tracing global capitalist change to the pre-modern European factories in Asia

The modern factory owes its name to the Asian trading ports in the Indian Ocean that served as hubs for global trade and flourished economically during the period 1500-1800. They were run by company servants called ‘factors’ and were places where commodities for intercontinental trade were gathered, stored and shipped. The EU-funded CAPASIA project will explore the origin, development, activities and connections of over 150 small and large factories controlled by the Portuguese, Dutch, English, French and other European East India companies. It will study what kind of economic activities were performed at these factories and how the European and local merchants interacted within this connected factory system.


In the present age of de-industrialisation of the West, the origins and evolution of global capitalism matters. CAPASIA locates the origins of modern industrial capitalism in the space of Asian ports in the Indian Ocean, where the Portuguese, as well as the Dutch, English, French, and other European East India companies operated in the early modern period (1500-1800). Well before the rise of 20th-century Special Economic Zones and world financial centres, the ports of maritime Asia (‘factories’) were areas of global trade and hubs of economic dynamism. Today ‘factories’ are places of industrial production, but they owe their name to these pre-modern Asian trading ports, European-controlled trade hubs headed by company servants called ‘factors’. Factories were places where commodities for intercontinental trade were assembled, stored and shipped. This project investigates the genesis, evolution, activities, and connections of over 150 small and large such factories as the foundation for a new spatial theory of capitalist development — complementing and challenging the current Atlantic plantation-based explanations proposed by the New History of Capitalism. CAPASIA’s integration of the large archival repositories of the different European East India companies and Asian archives will also be the basis for the ‘decolonization’ of the history of capitalism. Over its five-year duration, this project will ask: what kind of economic activities were carried out in these imperial trading centres? What were the interactive roles of European and local merchants? It will map the intercontinental movement of goods, people and information across an ‘archipelago’ of Asian ports. Working with collaborators from across the globe, CAPASIA’s overarching ambition is to recast the narrative of global economic change and capitalism by incorporating both Asian and European economic actors, and their interactions, in the space of the still unstudied factories of the Indian Ocean.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 2 368 600,00
50014 Fiesole

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Centro (IT) Toscana Firenze
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 2 368 600,00

Beneficiaries (1)