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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

Zoom [Registration link available soon]
Event date: 
Monday, 15 November, 2021 - 17:00 to 18:30

Commodity Wars: Early Modern Japan and the Trade in Deerskins

Although deer had been hunted for millennia for their meat and hides, seventeenth-century East and Southeast Asia witnessed an unprecedented boom that turned deerskins into one of the most heavily traded commodities across the region. Fueling this sprawling trade was a seemingly insatiable demand for deer leather in Tokugawa Japan, which had entered a prolonged period of stability and economic growth after decades of endemic warfare. The scale of the trade meant that it became a driver for change and conflict along each stage of the wider commodity chain. The long struggle to control the flow of commodities into Japan drew in multiple parties, including Japanese merchants and migrants, the Dutch East India Company, the English East India Company, the Zheng maritime network, the Cambodian court, the king of Ayutthaya (Siam), private Chinese merchants, and Persian traders. This talk focuses on the war over deerskins that was fought out between the Dutch East India Company and the Zheng maritime network based in Taiwan.  I argue that Japanese demand for deerskins triggered a prolonged trade war and with it a process of legal improvisation and innovation as different polities attempted to mark out zones of control over territorial waters, over sea-lanes and over bodies.

Adam Clulow is a Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa Japan (Columbia University Press, 2014), which won multiple awards including the Jerry Bentley Prize in World History from the American Historical Association, and Amboina, 1623: Conspiracy and Fear on the Edge of Empire (Columbia University Press, 2019).  He is creator of The Amboyna Conspiracy Trial, an online interactive trial engine that received the New South Wales Premiers History Award in 2017, and Virtual Angkor with Tom Chandler, which received the American Historical Association’s Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History and the 2021 Digital Humanities and Multimedia Studies Prize from the Medieval Academy of America.