Merchants of Enlightenment

Making knowledge move between England and Sweden 1700-72

Project Description

This project examines merchants’ role in making knowledge move, through a group of London merchants of Swedish origin 1700–72. Despite their key role in Anglo-Swedish exchange, surprisingly little is known of these brokers. An initial survey of sources has revealed how they provided a communication infrastructure – consisting of financial, logistical and social services – to scholarly communities. By analysing the infrastructure, I pursue two aims: 1) to elucidate how letters, books, instruments and scholars moved; 2) to understand what meanings such knowledge exchange had in European mercantile cultures.

The duration of the project is 3 years. Methodologically, it relates to the field of digital humanities and to studies of the practices and materiality of knowledge making. First, I will map the merchants, by organising scattered sources in a digital database. Then, I will analyse the merchants’ communication infrastructure to understand what services the merchants provided, how they formed scholarly correspondence and why they were offered to scholars.

While previous studies give in-depth knowledge of scholarly communities, they have largely ignored the practical world of messengers and shippers. By combining studies of scholarly correspondence, mercantile culture and the post, the project examines entwined scholarly and mercantile networks. The results will thus be of great interest for historians interested in the scholarly and mercantile cultures of 18th-century Europe.

(Illustration: Thomas Rowlandson, A Merchant's Office, Wikimedia Commons)

About the Project

Project Duration



The Swedish Research Council

Last modified: 2022-12-29