The Corporation in Early Modern Political Thought (spring 2019 seminar)

Owen Williams's picture
September 4, 2018
District Of Columbia, United States
Subject Fields: 
Early Modern History and Period Studies, Economic History / Studies, Law and Legal History, Political History / Studies, Urban History / Studies

The Corporation in Early Modern Political Thought

A Spring 2019 Semester-Length Seminar directed by Philip Stern


Sponsored by the Folger Institute Center for the History of British Political Thought


The corporation was a foundation of medieval and early modern political, religious, and commercial life and a central feature of early modern European thought about overseas expansion. This seminar will trace the evolution of the corporation as an idea and an institution, particularly in relation to European commerce and empire in Asia, Africa, the Atlantic, and Mediterranean worlds. It will engage with questions about legal and institutional pluralism and the composite nature of imperial sovereignty, the intimate relationship between political economy and political thought, the development of ideas about the distinctions between “public” good and “private” interest, and the ways in which encounters with other Europeans as well as indigenous peoples outside Europe influenced European political and economic thought. Readings will include works by Giovanni Botero, Johannes Althusius, Gerard de Malynes, Thomas Smith, Richard Hakluyt, Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, Josiah Child, Charles Davenant, Samuel Pufendorf, Adam Smith, and Edmund Burke, as well as various texts—such as administrative records, legal documents, and institutional correspondence—critical to excavating the political thought of corporations in the early modern world.


DirectorPhilip Stern is Sally Dalton Robinson Associate Professor of History at Duke University and the author of The Company-State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India (2011). He is currently working on two projects, one tracing the history of the colonial corporation and another that explores problems in legal geography in the early modern British Empire.


Schedule: Fridays, 1:00–4:30 p.m., 1 February through 12 April 2019, excluding 15 March and 22 March.


Apply4 September 2018 for admission (and grants-in-aid for Folger Institute consortium affiliates); 7 January 2019 for admission only. The portal may be found here:


Contact with any questions.

Contact Info: 

Owen Williams, Ph.D.

The Folger Institute | Folger Shakespeare Library

Associate Director for Scholarly Programs

201 East Capitol Street, SE | Washington, DC 20003

+1 202 675 0352

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