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Outsourcing Empire

How Company-States Made the Modern World

Andrew Phillips, J C Sharman

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Geisteswissenschaften, Kunst, Musik / Geschichte


How chartered company-states spearheaded European expansion and helped create the world’s first genuinely global order

From Spanish conquistadors to British colonialists, the prevailing story of European empire-building has focused on the rival ambitions of competing states. But as Outsourcing Empire shows, from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, company-states—not sovereign states—drove European expansion, building the world’s first genuinely international system. Company-states were hybrid ventures: pioneering multinational trading firms run for profit, with founding charters that granted them sovereign powers of war, peace, and rule. Those like the English and Dutch East India Companies carved out corporate empires in Asia, while other company-states pushed forward European expansion through North America, Africa, and the South Pacific. In this comparative exploration, Andrew Phillips and J. C. Sharman explain the rise and fall of company-states, why some succeeded while others failed, and their role as vanguards of capitalism and imperialism.

In dealing with alien civilizations to the East and West, Europeans relied primarily on company-states to mediate geographic and cultural distances in trade and diplomacy. Emerging as improvised solutions to bridge the gap between European rulers’ expansive geopolitical ambitions and their scarce means, company-states succeeded best where they could balance the twin imperatives of power and profit. Yet as European states strengthened from the late eighteenth century onward, and a sense of separate public and private spheres grew, the company-states lost their usefulness and legitimacy.

Bringing a fresh understanding to the ways cross-cultural relations were handled across the oceans, Outsourcing Empire examines the significance of company-states as key progenitors of the globalized world.



The North West Company, Superiority (short story), Profit maximization, Hegemony, Iberian Union, Political science, Modernity, Wealth, Geopolitics, Subsidy, Employment, British Empire, Ruler, International law, Royal charter, Trade-off, Early modern period, Fur trade, Nationalization, Zimbabwe, Corruption, Westphalian sovereignty, Colonial empire, Charter Company, Treaty, North America, Shareholder, De facto, Princeton University Press, Principal–agent problem, Sovereignty, Rupert's Land, Southeast Asia, Limited liability, Metropole, Great power, Share price, Chartered company, Dutch East India Company, Dutch West India Company, South Asia, Precedent, Globalization, Vassal, Governance, Competition, Mentorship, New Imperialism, Mughal Empire, Supply (economics), Colonialism, Legal personality, Militarization, United States territorial acquisitions, Warfare, Royal African Company, Seasteading, Routledge, Foray, Naval warfare, Cross-cultural, Dichotomy, Europe, Trading company, Australian Research Council, British South Africa Company, Institution, Congo Free State, International studies, Joint-stock company, Sovereign state, Napoleonic Wars, Imperialism, Atlantic World, Russian-American Company, Non-state actor, Suzerainty, Company rule in India, Holy Roman Empire, Griffith University, Dividend, Trading post, The Sovereign State, Commodity, Bankruptcy, Longevity, Tax, Infrastructure, International relations, Charter city, J. (newspaper), Spice trade, Partnership, Sharman, Prerogative, West Africa, Mughal emperors, Capitalism, Debt, Atlantic slave trade