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Myths of Stasis: South Asia, Global Commerce and Economic Orientalism in Late Eighteenth-Century France

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During the eighteenth century, European trade with Asia was characterized by the importation of sophisticated manufactured goods in exchange for silver. The features of Euro-Asian trade testify to the vitality of the Indian, Chinese, and Japanese economies in the period before the Great Divergence. Many European observers, however, mistook them for symptoms of economic stasis, purportedly caused by Oriental despotism. Investigating French descriptions of the South Asian economy articulated in debates concerning both the export of silver and competition with South Asian textiles, this thesis reads Orientalist stereotypes about economic dysfunction as responses to the challenges posed by the Subcontinent’s dynamism and as part of the rhetorical strategies by which European divergence from Asia could be imagined, anticipated, and pursued. It examines the ways in which a variety of actors in late eighteenth-century France and its colonial empire in South Asia developed Orientalist tropes of the Subcontinent as a region of economic backwardness and stasis. Respective chapters focus on figures concerned in debates about the importation of goods, particularly textiles, from South Asia; those concerned with the export of goods to South Asia; and with metropolitan and colonial figures who manipulated tropes of South Asian stasis during the French Revolution

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  • 01/28/2019
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