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Networks of Trade and Religion in Richard Hakluyt's 'Principal Navigations'

Final Report Summary - RHAK (Networks of Trade and Religion in Richard Hakluyt's 'Principal Navigations')

This project investigated the relationship between trade and religion in Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations (1589, 1598-1600), a vast repository of documents concerned with early modern commercial and colonial expansion. The study had two central objectives: the first was to introduce a more sophisticated understanding of religious identity into the discussion of Hakluyt and his sources. Traditionally, scholars have labelled Hakluyt a staunch Protestant, but this research demonstrated that his anti-Catholic rhetoric simply reflected state policy, while the extensive material he included in his collection features an important array of interactions between traders of different faiths, suggesting a more diverse, flexible and pragmatic world of commerce.

The second objective was to re-establish the centrality of England’s long-distance trading empire to Hakluyt’s vision by considering trading missions to Russia, Persia, and the Levant. Scholars have devoted disproportionate attention to the material relating to the Americas despite the fact that it comprises just one third of the text. This research took a nuanced approach to cross-confessional trade by considering not only how Protestants traded with Muslims and Orthodox Christians, but also how English Catholics lived and worked alongside English Protestants and how far their attitudes differed towards other faiths. The project is interdisciplinary in engaging with aspects of early modern trade, religion, culture and literature; and blends methodologies of textual analysis with prosopography and social network theory.

As records of the early chartered companies, such as the Muscovy Company, were lost in the Great Fire of London, Dr Branch attempted to find traces of the company and its members by trawling a vast array of sources in order to reconstruct the trading culture and social networks of these long-distance traders. Consequently, Dr Branch visited archives including the London Metropolitan Archives, the London Guildhall Library, the British Library, the UK National Archives, the Clothworkers’ Company and Goldsmiths’ Hall. She consulted port books, trade and haulage accounts, wills, state papers, mercantile correspondence, churchwardens’ accounts and London’s rich civic records.

Analysis of the material gathered suggests that the ‘Principal Navigations’ can be read as an irenic Christian text but is impossible to label consistently as representing one specific strand of Protestantism. Prosopographical research on merchants suggests that their networks were religiously mixed in the sixteenth century and that they held numerous ties in common (kin / trade / social / political) which acted to moderate the potential flash points of confessional difference.

Dr Branch also undertook training in digital humanities techniques including the use of network analysis software such as Gephi, and attended the Oxford Digital Humanities Summer School in July 2015. Together, these assisted in the creation of a database to house the prosopographical data gathered throughout the course of the project.

Dr Branch has spent significant time writing-up her findings and is in discussion with an academic publisher that is interested in taking on the resulting monograph. In addition, Dr Branch has also disseminated her research in the form of conference and invited seminar papers at the universities of Cambridge, Bangor, Plymouth, Limerick, NUIG and the Institute of Historical Research. Her research is on schedule to be published in the form of a monograph. A book chapter will also be contributed to Daniel Carey and Claire Jowitt (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Richard Hakluyt (forthcoming, Oxford University Press). Dr Branch also continues to use social media ( to share her research on a daily basis with as wide an audience as possible and encourage debate with both the general public and academic community around the world.