THE BROKERED WORLD: Go-betweens and global intelligence, 1770-1820

Period: November 2006 - November 2009

Granting organization: NWO


Prof.dr.. L.L. Roberts (Lissa)

Project partner

Simon Schaffer (Cambridge University), James Delbourgo (Rutgers University), Kapil Raj (Ecole des Haute Etudes, Paris), Emma Spary (Wellcome Institute for History of Medicine, London), Juan Pimentel (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid), David Turnbull, University of Melbourne, Neil Safier (University of British Columbia), Richard Drayton (Cambridge University), Sanjay Subrahmanyam (University of California, Los Angeles), Margaret Meredith (University of California, San Diego).

Project description

Focusing on the period 1770-1820, this programme gives detailed consideration to knowledge production and circulation at a key moment in the development of global scientific, commercial and political systems. This period was decisive for the reformation of imperial projects in the wake of military catastrophe and politico-economic crisis, both in the north Atlantic and the southern Asian spheres. It also saw the overhaul of networks and institutions of natural knowledge production and exchange, whether commercial, voluntary or organs of state. Additionally, both the Industrial and the Second Scientific Revolutions have been dated to this moment when new and decisive relations were being forged between different cultures’ knowledge carriers. Participants examine knowledge movements that escape simple models of metropolitan centre and remote colonial periphery. They also question the immutable character of mediators and agents in knowledge communication. Instead, they explore how experiences of travel, assimilation and expropriation changed both the bearers of knowledge and the knowledge communicated. A range of knowledges was in play: natural history, astronomy, survey science and engineering. So was a range of mediators: missionaries, entrepreneurs, spies, diplomats and navigators. This programme’s intellectual aim is to provide an in-depth account of the worldly interaction between the form of knowledge communicated, the agents of communication and the paths they travelled.

In addition to two closed workshops (Haarlem, 2006 and Madrid, 2008), a conference was held at University of Leiden in June 2008 to present the approach and some findings of this programme. Published results include Science and Global History, 1750-1850: Local encounters and global circulation (special issue of Itinerario,, 2009) and The Brokered World: Go-betweens and global intelligence, 1770-1820 (Science History Publications, 2009).