Kaarle Wirta

Hi there! Welcome my introductory blog post,

In this first blog post, I wanted to share some thoughts about who I am and why I am interested in global history, as well as to present some of my research interests. In future posts, I will focus more on topics related to my various interests regarding global history. Usually when I start a new book, I like to start by reading the acknowledgments of the author in order to become better acquainted with the author’s thought process behind the book. In my view it is always nice to gain a bit of personal flavour, in order to gain a more personal connection with the author. For that reason, this first blog is my invitation to you to get acquainted with my background as a scholar.

I am a passionate and innovative historian originally from Finland and I am currently conducting my PhD studies at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. My background in global history, sociology and African studies has convinced me that our field – and society at large – strongly benefits from research regarding connections, entanglements and overlaps in the early modern period. My passion is to study economic processes in the early modern global trade through social mechanisms of the people who participated in these processes.

My interest in global history was initially sparked as an undergraduate student at Åbo Akademi in Finland, where I was kindly invited by Professor Weiss to join a reading circle for historians, with an invested interest in history theory. In preparation for the reading circles, we read chapters from classic works such as Henri Lefebvre and Pierre Bourdieu and on the spot we discussed topics such as the spatial turn but also got familiarized with sociological texts, focusing especially on Bourdieu. The importance of these circles were paramount in encouraging me to spend more time with historical theory, as well as viewing current society from a sociological and historical-process point of view.

In my bachelors thesis, I analysed the social capital accumulation of a West African merchant house in the 19th century, observing the family’s change in behaviour and identity through generations especially when trading with European trading firms. At the time, especially the commodity chain of palm-oil trade fascinated me. During my undergraduate studies, I was also offered the fantastic opportunity to spend a year at Leipzig University, where Professor Ulf Engel and Professor Matthias Middel truly inspired me to observe global history from a more spatial point of view. I started to elaborate on the idea of focusing on single cases in a more globally connected and social perspective. At that point, I was feverishly reading authors such as Luise White, James Ferguson, Achille Mbembe, Antony Hopkins, William McNeill, Fernand Braudel and Immanuel Wallerstein. When I returned to Åbo Akademi for my MA thesis in history and minor studies in sociology, I had made up my mind that my contribution to the field would be to investigate African history through shared experiences between African and European merchants during the early modern period. Due to my language skills and support by my MA supervisor  Professor Weiss, I decided to focus on the Danish presence on the Gold Coast and to conduct a microhistorical study of entangled experiences of the Danish Africa trade during a time period of significant change from the early modern to modern period in the 18th century. By accident I stumbled upon books by Ginzburg and Peltonen and was soon hooked on microhistory as well. Although the thesis was still an immature exercise, it sparked my interest in understanding global processes in trade history through studying the individual experiences of the people involved in these worlds. The turning point for me as a young and motivated student was when-while finishing my undergraduate studies- an opportunity appeared to apply for an esteemed vacancy for a four year PhD project at Leiden University. The project is supervised by Professor Cátia Antunes, whose established and well-known works on studies of entrepreneurship in the early modern period finally helped me to discover socio-economic history in the early modern global history. The prospect of working in close cooperation and supervision under professor Antunes was for me a dream that eventually came true in the autumn of 2013.

My current project applies an “economic micro history” toolkit and investigates overseas entrepreneurship in the northern European context, including Scandinavian, Dutch and German entrepreneurs and their role in the 17th century trade, both in the Indian and the Atlantic Ocean.

As for now, I am working as a PhD candidate at Leiden University in a large ERC-funded project “Fighting monopolies, defying empires 1500-1750: a comparative overview of free agents and informal empires in Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire”. Our project as a whole focuses on how “free agents” (entrepreneurs operating outside of the myriad of interests of the centralized, state-sponsored monopolies) in western Europe and the Ottoman Empire reacted to the creation of colonial monopolies (royal monopolies and chartered companies) by the central states in the early modern period. I feel honored to be supervised by Professor Cátia Antunes (Leiden University) and Leos Müller (Stockholm University). Both of my supervisors’ experience and expertise in studies on early modern overseas trade and entrepreneurship gives me confidence to finish the project. My personal experience in working in a large team consisting of approximately 10 researchers from a variety of backgrounds makes me convinced that our field will really benefit from team work and the research agendas can be better pushed forward since they allow for a multitude of perspectives and different approaches in terms of focus. I have learned a great deal from my fellow team-researchers and their accomplishments and active research inspires me to continue digging deeper in the entrepreneurial history of the early modern period.

My background, current research interests as well as the different inspiring people around me allows me to dream of making early modern history inspiring and accessible also for the broad audience. Examples of how exciting early modern global history can be made better known ranges from the writing of children’s books to writing biographies on individual merchants for the more experienced reader.

To the GHL-network I hope I can bring enthusiasm, inspiration and experience in working with microhistorical methods and social perspectives on economic history. I am also interested in giving talks and lectures about my research for different audiences. I believe that the early modern global history needs to be shared with as many as possible!

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