Historisk tidskrift 134:3 • 2014
Innehåll (Contents) 2014:3
Ett ensamt skepp på öppet hav? Kopplingar, kontakter och utbyten
A lonely ship on the open sea? Connections, contacts and exchange on Swedish East India Company merchantmen
The ship is an often-used symbol for isolation and adventure, and, correspondingly, the open sea is viewed as an empty space to be traversed. Focusing on the ships of the Swedish East India Company, this article questions this trope. As suggested by recent research at the intersection of global and maritime history, the 18th-century company trade was a time and site of intensified globalisation. The Swedish company, albeit small, was in the midst of this development.
Rather than being examples of isolation or time spent waiting, the journeys of the company ships were times of intense intercultural connections and change. There was continuous contact between Swedish and other European ships, and between the ships and land. This contact could take the form of communication, cooperation or conflict. Furthermore, the ship and its spaces were constantly reshaped, just as death, stowaways, desertions and male and female visitors and passengers kept the ship an ever-changing multicultural place. Journeys were used for training and education. These interactions and practices related both to the home and to the destination and the journey was not a passage outside time or outside society. Finally, the travellers on the Swedish East India Company ships were following established routes, and their crews were writing and reading instructions, thus filling the empty sea with landmarks and meaning.
Far from isolated, the ships formed part of the globalisation process in transit. The ships were arenas for interactions between social groups, nationalities and genders and, as such, had the potential to break up imagined boundaries between sea and land. But parallel to that process, life on the ships contributed to the continuous making of social and ethnic difference, both on board and in the intercultural meetings on ship and land. Thus the Swedish East India Company ships simultaneously created and dissolved borders, such as those between sea and land, while they recreated and reinforced others, such as distinctions based on ethnicity, social difference or gender.
Maritime history, Swedish East India Company, in transit, heterotopia, intercultural contacts, globalisation