Elizabeth H. Cross

Doctoral CandidateHarvard University

Award Information

2013 IDRF Program

HistoryHarvard University

The Compagnie des Indes and the Fate of Commercial Empire in the French Revolution

My dissertation studies the fate of France's late eighteenth-century global empire through the lens of the last French East India Company during the final years of the Old Regime and into the French Revolution. Though this Company has not received any recent scholarly attention, the history of its incorporation and liquidation elucidates a broader transformation in the policy and structures of France's empire. My project will examine the interrelated nature of colonial and metropolitan histories, particularly as I explore how the imperatives of global commercial competition with Britain – especially in the aftermath of France's territorial losses in the Seven Years War in India – informs economic policy at home. I hypothesize that, as Indian markets were drawn into the sphere of British influence, French policymakers began an "imperial exit strategy" that encouraged the development of industries in the mainland to replace key goods imported by the Company. This exit strategy reached its ideological apogee during the radical phase of the Revolution, which I see as part of an ongoing battle between two conflicting visions of France: a maritime, cosmopolitan one, and an insular, continental one. I will place my work in broader scholarly contexts by exploring the links between the policy of exit strategy and larger anti-imperial trends in eighteenth-century intellectual history and political theory. My research will thus explore how eighteenth-century France navigated the balance between foreign expansion and domestic prosperity, which will have contemporary relevance to current debates in both history and other social science disciplines about the origins and processes of globalization.