Across the Channel: Innovative Jewish networks in the 18th century

Isabelle Bretthauer (Labex Hastec, École nationale des chartes) and Liliane Hilaire-Pérez

(Centre A. Koyré and Université Paris 7)

We benefit from a large historiography on minorities’ networks like the Huguenots and Jacobites across France and England during the 18th century. It is now universally accepted that these transfers were crucial for the capacities of invention in Europe, hence for the so-called “Industrial Revolution”. But the role of Jews in these innovative networks has not occupied historical research. One reason is a historiographic tradition asserting the marginality of Jews in the process of economic modernisation. For example, in his book on the Prager family, Gedalia Yogev argued that “in the eighteenth century, English Jews took almost no part in developments which were to revolutionize economic life in Britain”. This notion is now very much questioned. Jonathan Karp analysed this stereotype and proposed to set the question anew. According to Karp, the recent revisions of the Industrial Revolution, which is seen as based upon demand as the motor of production, can help to restate the role of Jewish merchants as actors of modernity. Besides the “Court Jews” and the “Port Jews”, there was another character: Jews who were involved in the burst of a consumer society and in the promotion of new invented products and materials, as well as in the production of such goods. We can call them “Smithian Jews”.

We focus especially on Jewish enterprises within trade across the Channel. This circuit was crucial to the transfers of new products and processes with the Continent and to the economic competition that developed in Europe. We have identified a connection of Anglo-French Jewish merchants that was pivotal in this trade. They were Ashkenazi merchants and they were connected to major manufacturing centres in France and in England. We will deal, particularly, with one network, the Oppenheims, who entered in a close relationship with a great industrialist of the Midlands in the 1760s, Matthew Boulton, lately a partner to James Watt for the production of steam engines. With Boulton and the Oppenheims then, we are right into the process of economic modernisation and into intercultural trade as crucial to the capacities to transfer and innovate.

Mobility, innovation and the tragic life of Marinos Harvouris between Kefalonia, St Petersburg and Paris (1729-1782)

Sakis Gekas (York University, Toronto)

Marinos Harvouris (1729-1782) of Kefalonia is unknown although he achieved Europe-wide fame, especially in France, when in 1769 he published his report on how he engineered and executed the plan to transport a massive 2,000-tones stone to support a statue of Peter the Great from a lake in Karelia to St Petersbourg, a distance of 14 miles. The achievement earned Harvouris international acclaim and Russian titles but small financial gain, despite the promises of Empress Catherine. This is why Harvouris put his entrepreneurial mind to other ventures. The most significant involved transplanting crops and ‘colonial’ plants such as indigo, sugar cane and coffee to his native Kefalonia. Harvouris presented his plan to Empress Catherine and she promised to fund it, excited by the prospect of some form of economic penetration in the Mediterranean. Harvouris started cultivating indigo and sending samples to Venice and received approval for a successful colonial-type plantation business in the Ionian Islands. Towards the end of the eighteenth century Bandi, a French entrepreneur with knowledge on colonial plantations, settled in Kefalonia and together with Harvouris introduced mechanization for the processing of sugar cane and cotton that they transplanted from India. The venture came to a dramatic end when Harvouris and Bondi were brutally murdered in 1782 probably by their workers. Speculation about the role of the Venetian authorities and the lack of protection abounds. The motives of the murders aside this was the most impressive attempt to introduce cultivation techniques and product innovation in the islands during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The murder shows the lack of public safety and the vulnerability of such projects in late-Venetian Kefalonia that threatened life and hindered economic development and innovation.

The paper will discuss the story of Harvouris to show examples of how mobility and innovation combined in the transfer of useful and reliable knowledge (URK), and the emergence of the Ionian Islands as a field of technical experimentation similar to ventures in the colonies but unknown elsewhere in the Mediterranean. This is a story of innovation, transfer and dissemination of technical useful and reliable knowledge, the role of Paris for the diffusion of knowledge and the expansion of Russian influence in the Mediterranean; knowledge acquired elsewhere was transmitted first from St Petersburg to Paris and then from France to Kefalonia. The paper examines these two cases of transfer of useful and reliable knowledge in the context of the growing field of Global History. The story reveals the early involvement of Russia in the Mediterranean in the late eighteenth century and the role of Harvouris as an indirect agent of Russian interests, a representative of Russian ‘soft power’ before the arrival of the Russian navy in the Mediterranean.

The paper provides a biographical approach to the study of innovation. Harvouris is impressive because he acquired considerable fame, but has only recently been ‘discovered’ by local historians, admirers and followers. Mazarakis (1843) wrote an early account of his life, while in 2003 the book was re-printed to honour the memory of the famous engineer, one of the few that came from the Ionian Islands. The life story of Harvouris has also inspired a novel, “The Brothers Carburi” by Petrie Harbouri (2001) and the production of an animated short film explaining his engineering achievement in 1770 in Russia. The paper argues about the biographical value of such stories that can serve a broader educational purpose about the value of global histories of mobility, innovation and the social and political conditions that foster or inhibit the transplanting of knowledge and product and process innovations.

Traveling Greek-speaking scholars and the circulation of knowledge in Eastern Europe at the turn of the 19th century

Manolis Patiniotis (University of Athens – Department of Philosophy and History of Science)

The 18th-century Greek-speaking scholars of the Ottoman Empire were a group of traveling savants who produced much of their work while moving from one place to another. Most of them departed from an area of south-western Balkans, where a dynamic trade activity spurred the quest for new knowledge. Following the commercial routes that connected the Ottoman Empire with central Europe, they first pursued the new natural philosophy at the universities and the libraries of Padua, Vienna, Leipzig, Jena and Halle. Then they traveled eastwards looking for proper social environments and patronage networks, in order to reap the benefits of their qualifications. Constantinople, Jassy and Bucharest provided such environments, and many of them had successful careers as teachers or doctors under the protection of the Phanariots, a group of Greek-speaking nobles who held important administrative positions in the Ottoman Empire

Greek-speaking scholars were generally perceived as the agents upon whom the most dynamic social groups of the emerging Greek society counted for the shaping of their collective physiognomy. But, as the constituents of this physiognomy were still under negotiation, the philosophical discourses they elaborated reflected their attempt to meet the conflicting demands arising from the intersection of multiple cultural traditions and social interests. Their travels between the educational centers of central Europe and the political centers of the Orient, as well as their continuous shifting between their firm neo-Aristotelian background and the “unstable” ground of modern natural philosophy, clearly illustrate this ambiguity.

Eugenios Voulgaris (1716-1806) was one of the most erudite scholar of his time. In Greek historiography he is known as the person who decisively contributed to the revival of Greek philosophy and the author of some of the most influential threatises in metaphysics, logic, literature, religious studies and natural philosophy. In his work he brings together the attainment of the Enlightenment with the neo-Aristotelian philosophy that dominated the Greek intellectual life since the early 17th century. The scientific discourse resulting from Voulgaris’ synthesis is primarily contemplative rather than experimental or mathematical and forms one of the many diverging epistemic endeavors, which marked the early life of modern science. What assigns this discourse a particular character is that it epitomizes the life and the career expectations of a man who was continuously on the move. Voulgaris crossed a variety of intellectual environments trying to bridge different philosophical, religious and political visions rather than looking for a narrowly defined “scientific” knowledge. From this point of view, his travels bring forward the importance of networks built by the actors in the process of knowledge exchange and show that, contrary to the received view, locality played an instrumental role in knowledge production not as a static confinement but as a condition of circulation.

“Hans Sloane Does Not Exist”

James Delbourgo (Rutgers University)

The collections of Hans Sloane (1660-1753) formed the basis for the British Museum. But did he really exist? This paper argues that in two senses he did not. First, it rethinks the process of forming collections by placing center-stage the brokers and go-betweens who facilitated the acquisition of Sloane’s objects rather than the collector with whom such objects ultimately came to rest via untold second- and third-hand mediations. In Sloane’s case, he assembled a mammoth collection of curiosities both natural and artificial under the rubric of ‘universal’ natural history thanks to travellers in Britain’s expanding eighteenth-century empire who ranged across Europe, South and East Asia, the West Indies and North America, and beyond. The permanence of the collections Sloane built in London in fact masked his own personal history of colonial mobility and metropolitan adaptation, since he was born to Scottish parents in the Protestant plantation of Ulster, completed his scientific and medical training in France, and made pivotal natural history collections in England’s rising slave colony on Jamaica. Second, the paper considers what became of Sloane’s public persona after his collections were rehoused in the newly founded British Museum, which opened in 1759, and set a pattern of competitive material accumulation and increasingly specialized organization as the world’s first national public encyclopedic museum. Ironically, by the nineteenth century, Sloane’s profile dissolved within the very institution to which his epic collections had given rise. One of the effects of this process of institutionalization was the decrease in visibility of Sloane’s collections, his career, and the work of the many intermediaries who made his collections possible. If the nineteenth century witnessed the canonization of the collector as a heroic individual, Sloane – and those suppliers without whom Sloane could never have collected – nevertheless faded from view. The paper thus culminates in the analysis of a paradox that played out across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: the vanishing of Sloane’s career of furious collective mobility and unprecedented institutional formation in an age of heroic individualism, mobility and innovation.

Reinventing Nineveh. Archaeology and the British Museum around 1850

Mirjam Brusius (Oxford University)

In my paper, I will explore the relationship between archeological finds from the Middle East, namely the biblical land of Mesopotamia, and their reconstruction in the mid-19th century at the British Museum. Artistic practises were extensively used in the field and in the museum to “make sense” of items and define their status as museological objects. This status was not immediately clear when the objects were excavated. Nevertheless, research on the excavations and their reception in Europe in the history of archaeology and art in the Middle East has mostly drawn a picture of a well-organised, purposive and logical enterprise in which finding objects and depicting them have a clear purpose. The immediate history (for example the famous publication “Nineveh and its remains“ published by the British Antiquarian A.H. Layard in 1848) retrospectively narrates the finds and their arrival as an organised and well-thought through event that met peoples’ expectations and their imagination of the enterprise. This self-presentation tends not to be challenged in the historiography of the topic, although in fact the archival sources tell a story of chaos (starting with the logistics involved in transporting the objects), disorganisation, unclear aims and uncertainty. Little attention has been paid to the fact, that the excavated items were initially objects without a clear status, even once they arrived in Europe: While some objects were put on display, others were, for example, put in storage. Furthermore, the reconstruction of Mesopotamia did not necessarily take place with the original finds but, as the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 shows, with reproductions. The paper will look at the period between the finds and their final incorporation into European collections; that is, the time and space in which the objects seemed to have “no status“ and their meaning was still negotiable.

The Ottoman Age of Industrial Revolution

Inventors, Engineers and Cosmopolitanism in the Ottoman Empire

Ali Yaycioglu (Stanford University, Department of History)

This paper is on how the industrial revolution(s), namely structural changes in manufacturing, engineering and material culture in Western Europe were received and experienced in the Ottoman Empire, roughly between 1760 and 1830. Conventionally, historians do not include Ottoman experience in the historiography on the Industrial Revolution (or industrial revolutions), which has been discussed as an exclusively Western European and partly North American story. However, recently historians have examined global implications of technological transformation through transfer of technical knowledge and spreading of technical people at global scale, which fostered new forms of exchanges of ideas, tensions and negotiations between European and other forms of technical expertise.

Starting from the second half of the eighteenth century, while the technical developments that we call the Industrial Revolution were experienced in England, North America, France and German lands, various individuals, specializing on manufacturing and engineering (particularly military engineering) spread out from these countries to different parts of the world. Some of these people were members of diplomatic and military missions. Some others were private entrepreneurs, technicians and inventors. Yet some were charlatans. By the early nineteenth century, particularly during the Napoleonic wars, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Iran, India, China and Japan provided various opportunities for such engineers, industrial technicians and entrepreneurs, who were looking for new patrons for their expertise and inventions. Political leaders and regional power-holders in these polities were interested in hiring these individuals to introduce new military technologies in this time of constant warfare and military crises. These rulers financed new workshops, factories and educational institutions under the supervisions of the European technicians. Meanwhile European experts and engineers competed with each other in these markets to get more support from the patrons for their new projects and inventions.

Often rulers who came with reform agendas in these empires privileged these European technical experts over local engineers, who conventionally monopolized technical knowledge. The interactions (and tensions) between the European and local technicians (European and native technical knowledge) constituted a rich repertoire of information-exchange, forms of commensurability and incommensurability and negotiations. The dissemination of European technical experts and expertise also had profound impact in political dynamics. Those who benefitted and who did not benefit from the new technologies developed different collective arguments, which were immediately translated into political discourses, against or for these new fashions. Meanwhile, a new cosmopolitanism of technical people came into being at the global scale. Many of these people, operating in these empires, continued having connection in their home countries in Europe and being part of various networks of engineers operating in different parts of the world. Their publications, illustrating new inventions and their applications, functioned as marketing tools, as well as intellectual contributions.

This paper will introduce a glance of these technical cosmopolitanism in the Ottoman Empire in the age of political and industrial revolutions. Focusing on the stories of some French, Austrian, British, Italian and American experts, who operated in different sectors (mainly military sector) in the Ottoman Empire, it will discuss how the Ottoman World, similar to Qajar Iran, Romanov Russia, Mughal India, and Qing China, became a fertile and favorable environment for technical experiments, new inventions, and certain radical ideas of technology, which could not find place and support in their home countries. It also discusses the forms of interactions between the European and local technical experts and expertise, as well as long-term political implications of these interactions in the nineteenth century’s political discourses of modernization.


Engineers in the Late Ottoman Empire: A Cosmopolitan Community of Experts

Darina Martykánová (Autonomous University of Madrid)                              

While the Sultan’s domains had attracted expert technicians for centuries, the Ottoman Empire became a true land of opportunities for engineers from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Interventionist policies of the Ottoman government, modernising agenda of different local elites, expansion of global capitalism as well as converging and diverging interests of companies, individuals and foreign governments created a dynamic environment for the construction, assertion and legitimation of expert authority of men linked to warfare, shipping, public works, mining, telegraphy and other fields that came to be seen as requiring special technical or techno-scientific knowledge and skills. While -since the eighteenth century- the Ottoman authorities strove to train local men for these tasks, the speed, efficiency and links to foreign producers of technology were the leading characteristics in the implementation and development of modern engineering, favouring massive influx of technicians from European (and, to a much lesser degree, non-European) countries.

Local and foreign, skilled men claimed capacity and asserted their authority in complex dynamics of power where ethno-religious allegiance and nationality played major role that is hard to dissociate from that of technical knowledge and skills, certified or not. The definition of the fields of experts’ action was intertwined with the definition of expert identities, and this twofold process had both local and transnational dimensions.

The history of engineers in the Ottoman Empire tends either to present a teleological, national narrative of the birth of Turkish engineering as a profession, or to evolve around specific institutions and major projects and focus on famous foreign engineers who worked in the Ottoman Empire (Heinrich Meissner, Karl Terzaghi). This paper, however, adopts a different approach. I will argue that during the last decades of the Empire there existed a transnational community of engineers working in the Ottoman lands; a community that, while divided due to ethno-political allegiances, stable or shifting, was united by shared notions of expert knowledge and skills as well as by a common discourse of progress and civilisation. First, the paper analyses the configuration and historical transformations of the transnational engineering community in the imperial territory, its organising elements, its centres (geographic, institutional-corporate, etc.) and its vehicles of communication and representation. Second, I proceed to track how local national communities of engineers emerged, closely linked to the institutionalisation of the governmental intervention and to the articulation of a patriotic discourse. I understand this emergence as a process that is inseparable from the existence and reproduction of the above-mentioned transnational community of engineers and therefore I will focus in detail on the dialectics of interaction between the professional and ethno-religious/national dimensions of the engineers’ identities and loyalties. Expertise thus appears as a highly charged power field where techno-scientific skills and credentials are negotiated and authority is asserted through mechanisms that are embedded in political, economic and socio-cultural dynamics and, at the same time, they contribute to shape these dynamics, producing new discursive elements and practices.

Innovation, Technology and 19th Century Entrepreneurial Networks

Sibel Zandi-Sayek (The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA)

Victorian era British engineers’ wide-ranging contributions to the history of technological innovation — from Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s landmark suspension bridges — are well documented staples of architectural history. Far less known, however, are their overseas exploits, as in the case of Paxton’s equally interesting entrepreneurial activities as railroad booster and shareholder in the Ottoman Empire. And even less known are the activities of their local counterparts — industrial partners, entrepreneurs, brokers, or bureaucrats — who instigated, led, or facilitated such enterprises in the host country. Using these historiographical omissions as a starting point, this paper probematizes how we construe the history of industrialization and building technology in dominant architectural narratives. First, by probing representative industrial ventures forged by Ottoman and British agents in the mid-nineteenth century, the paper presents an interwined story of industrialization, comprising a variety of agencies, negotiations and mutuality. Some of these enterprises, like Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s forgotten, but groundbreaking, military field hospital in Renkioi, Dardanelles (1855), were driven by the British government’s logistical needs. Others, as with prominent Ottoman industrialist Ohannes Dadian and renowned Scottish engineer Sir William Fairbairn’s collaboration, were long and fruitful associations producing several new Ottoman state factories in the 1840s. And still others were initiated by local entrepreneurs, like the Smyrna Steam Flour‐Mill Company, broadly recognized for its high performance Watt and Woolf steam engines (1849). Together these ventures fundamentally challenge narratives of linear and unidirectional technological modernization as well as those that privilege the end product as their object of study. They reveal instead a process of exchange, trial and error, locating industrialization in what Timothy Mitchell aptly termed “the reticulations of exchanges and production encircling the world” and hence “a creation not of the West but of an interaction between West and non-West” (Questions of Modernity, 2000, 2). Second, by engaging with networks, exchanges and associations as essential dimensions of architectural history, this paper invites a reconsideration of what counts for evidence in the field. Beyond studying buildings through their established architects or engineers, it calls for identifying the networks within which such projects were conceived and the various actors who animated them. Invoking Bruno Latour’s notion of a “sociology of associations” and his concept of mediators who “transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning of the elements they are supposed to carry” (Reassembling the Social, 2005, 39), this paper seeks to restore into standard accounts the agency of those who acted as interlocutors and clients and without whom many of these projects would have never seen the light of day.

Liberalism, Exile and International Finance: The Spanish Case, 1820-1830s

Juan Pan-Montojo and Juan Luis Simal (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

The discursive features of nineteenth-century liberal internationalism have been described by several historians, who have incorporated exile and mobility as a key factor for its understanding. However, the economic and, more precisely, financial dimensions associated with political emigration have not been studied at length. We believe that its examination is fundamental for understanding the interests of liberalism in exile as well as its projects for the state and nation-building processes. Moreover, they constitute an integral part of the history of international finance.

For this workshop we propose a case study: the financial activities of the Spanish liberal exiles during the period 1823-1833, in the context of competition to attract international capital (their main competitors being other “liberal emerging markets” like the Latin American nations or Greece) to challenge the absolutist monarchy. The problem exile Spaniards faced was that they were not in charge of a government: they had gone into exile for their participation in the constitutional monarchy established in Spain in the Trienio Liberal (1820-1823), crushed by a French intervention. Among them were some professional businessmen, bankers and/or finance ministers, who put their expertise to the service of the liberal project. Their financial arguments revolved around their project to reinstall a liberal state in Spain committed to serving the international debt of the constitutional government, and the economic opportunities that the opening of the Spanish economy would bring for international investors. The financial side of their struggle against Ferdinand VII’s monarchy – which combined with armed insurrection and the battle for winning international public opinion – forced them to innovate and establish peculiar financial instruments that brought together political and economic interests. This innovation found its more striking materialisation in the bonds issued by the exiles themselves. Spanish liberals asked foreign investors to be politically engaged with liberalism and not to purchase the bonds of a “tyrannical” government. Instead, liberals in exile issued their own bonds and asked investors to acquire them, so they could fund their political and insurrectional activities. There is evidence that they obtained some success in raising money using these methods.

These activities take us to two geographic settings: London and Paris. Both cities were the two main destinations of the Spanish exiles and, in the first half of the nineteenth-century, were giving shape to their modern stock markets, which were to become the centre of world banking. The financial markets of the British and French capitals contributed to connect northern Europe with the Mediterranean region and the American continent, in ways in which exiles and other migrants like diplomats played a decisive role. They performed a major role in the delineation of the contours of international economics through several financial instruments, especially by means of the issue and re-issue of public debt bonds in global markets. Many of them were also at the centre of international finance connections, and used them to secure funding. The investment came mainly from French and British “capitalists”. Yet it is not clear who exactly these “capitalists” were, and what motivations and objectives they had. They did need to be close to liberalism in political terms, since these loans could be high risk-high return investments. Among them were big international banking houses, but also common bond holders and medium-size merchants. Many just wanted to obtain benefits, or were interested in recovering their money after a financial crisis. We would however suggest as a working hypothesis that very often their political and economic interests – as well as those of the exiles themselves – could be found to go hand in hand.

Mobilization, Mobility, and Innovation in Nineteenth-Century North Africa

Julia Clancy-Smith (University of Arizona)

Standard narratives of how North Africa came to modernity during the long 19th century have stressed the impact of demobilized European military officers whose peregrinations across the Ottoman Empire during the post-1815 period introduced new technological and scientific knowledge to local rulers and notables. Little scholarly attention has been paid to North Africans or Ottomans who voluntarily served in European armies before World War I. Moreover, the conventional view casts Muslim soldiers in the Great War as principally unwilling victims. However, the Algerian Kabyle notable, Hacène-ou-Amrouche, freely enrolled in the French army, fought in the Crimean War, survived the battle Sebastopol (1854-1855), and eventually returned to Algeria in 1871. This experience shaped his life trajectory and that of his descendants; because he had learned French, he won a post as an interpreter, and later that of spahi, in colonial Algeria. He introduced French into his extended family circle and sent his only grandson to Catholic missionaries for schooling. Here we see language acquisition in relation to physical migration as well as to status mobility and opportunity; it allowed Hacène to serve as the intermediary between rulers and ruled. Repatriated Tunisian soldiers from the same war in the Crimea also appear to have influenced the reception of new technologies, particularly print culture, in the country.

A similar dynamic operated in roughly the same period for Catholic female missionaries in the Maghrib who developed novel teaching/instructional “know-how” there for girls’ education, notably in pre-colonial Tunisia. Finally, the “Tunisian” statesman, military officer, and philosopher, Khayr al-Din Pasha (c. 1822-1890), who composed one of the most significant political treatise of the nineteenth-century Muslim world, had crossed the Mediterranean on many voyages, many times. His Arabic manifesto of 1867 called for fundamental transformations in governance, financial practices, and educational institutions. What is significant is that his extended argument for far-reaching change, for social mobilization, was framed in a powerful discourse of applied technology.

The notion of mobilization promises to open up new scholarly vistas, beyond the purely military realm, for re-evaluating the work of Christian missionaries in Muslim lands, or the trajectories of politicized laborers, such as expatriate Italian anarchists, on the move in search of employment, patronage, or save haven in the Ottoman Empire. This paper employs the genre of biography to investigate various kinds and degrees of mobilization in relationship to innovation, technology, and migration.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *