Edmond Smith

Dr

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Personal profile

Overview


I joined Manchester in 2018 as a Presidential Fellow in Economic Cultures before becoming Senior Lecturer in 2022. I am interested in histories of globalisation and capitalism and have conducted research in Africa, America, Asia and Europe, working to understand how everyday lives and behaviours bring about systemic changes in local and global economies. My first book Merchants: The Community that Shaped England’s Trade and Empire was a 2021 Aspects of History Book of the Year and won the Ralph Gomory Prize in 2023. I am currently completing my second book Profiteers: Britain's Ruthless Pursuit of Wealth, Power and Empire, 1660-1800.

My research seeks to understand the institutional underpinnings of economic development, innovation and globalisation. Instead of focusing on states, empires, or corporations, I peek under the hood of these seemingly monolithic, homogenous entities to find the individuals who were the beating heart of this processes. Whether these are the rock-salt entrepreneurs of Ghana, Gujarati brokers haggling over silk in Surat, or English merchants planning to colonise the Arctic with Lapp settlers, each has their own stories to tell – and all contributed to the creation of the global, connected world we know today. Focusing on people – their everyday activities and values and their experiences of contact with the outside world – helps us to understand the cultural conditions of global capitalism in a much more nuanced way. Rather than finding a euro-centric, rigid model imposed on the world from boardrooms in Amsterdam and London, we instead discover that the origins of global capitalism are de-centred, open to the roles played by men and women from all walks of life across the world. We see economics not only as trade-flows and stock markets but also as the day-to-day activities of individuals, families and communities.

My work has published in numerous academic journals and books, and I have received prestigious funding awards from the British Academy, Arts and Humanities Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council, among others, that has allowed me to undertake cutting edge research into histories of capitalism and globalisation. I have also been elected to serve as Council Member for the Hakluyt Society (2017-21) and the Economic History Society (2021-present).

In addition to my academic work, I maintain strong relationships with finance and policy sectors, with a particular focus on economic security, innovation, and long-run economic change. In 2023 I established the Economic Security Policy Network that draws on a wide-range of expertise across the humantities to provide expert advice on topics related to innovation, technology and systemic economic challenges.

Listen to me discuss my research on BBC HistoryEXTRA here.

 

Research interests

My research interests, at their broadest, seek to uncover the origins of our globalised world. My previous work focused on the individuals and institutions that underpinned England's commercial expansion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and set the foundations for much of Britain's consequent economic development.

Building on this, my current research examines the ways in which Britain's economy developed through to the early nineteenth century - an expansion that was fuelled by innovative and entrepreneurial activities in Britain, but also the impact of colonialism, slavery and empire. Understanding the processes of 'capitalism' and the origins of Britain's industrialisation requires bringing these together. To undertake this research, I am leading two projects at Manchester. The first, "Risky Business: Investing in Innovation and Britain's Economic Development, 1600-1750" is supported by the ESRC and the second, "Legacies of the British Slave Trade: The Structures and Significance of British Investment in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, c. 1550-1807", has received AHRC funding. Across these projects, I will interrogate the relationship between slavery, colonialism, international trade and industrialisation, with the aim of understanding the trajectories of economic growth that catapulted Britain towards its commercial and imperial position in the nineteenth century. This will culminate in my second book Profiteers.

Watch my talk at the John Rylands Library exploring these topics here.

 

This work supports my longer-term research agenda to examine the global history of globalisation - the processes by which commercial cultures developed in sites of cross-cultural economic encounter between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries. This project includes specific case studies examining Akan West Africa, the Gujarati Indian Ocean World, and the Straits of Malacca. In each case, I am exploring how participation in these "contested" sites of globalisation shaped European and non-European actors' response to globalisation, changing the way they approached trade and empire, and having profound impacts on local and global economic activity.

I am part of Manchester's Centre for Economic Cultures and Centre for Crisis Studies and Mitigation.

Opportunities

I have supervised a number of MA and PhD students on topics including religion and empire in the seventeenth century, the role of directors in early modern corporate organisation, royal engagement in empire in the eighteenth century, and family businesses in the nineteenth century. I welcome enquiries from students interested in any aspect of social and economic history in the early modern period. 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities

Areas of expertise

  • DS Asia
  • DT Africa
  • E11 America (General)
  • D901 Europe (General)
  • HC Economic History and Conditions

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Policy@Manchester

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