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Ulbe Bosma receives ERC Advanced Grant for study of most exported commodities

11 April 2024
The Global South in the Age of Early Industrial Capitalism.

The ERC advanced grant awarded to Ulbe Bosma, Endowed Professor of International Comparative Social History at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU Amsterdam) and Senior Researcher at the International Institute of Social History (where the project will be hosted) provides an highly important contribution to acquire for the very first time a comprehensive understanding of the immense transformative effects of commodity frontiers in the Global South that fed the rise of early industrial capitalism, in the decisive years between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and the opening of the Suez Canal in in 1869.

‘Our lives would be unthinkable without the production of millions of tons of cotton, sugar, palm oil or soy. All these commodities are obtained at the lowest possible price with often destructive consequences for people and nature. The scale of the resulting environmental crises may be something of recent making, its mechanisms can be traced many centuries ago and are crucially part of the history of global capitalism’, says Bosma.

Seven most exported commodities
Together with 2 postdoctoral and 2 PhD researchers and student assistants, Bosma will assess these effects by studying the seven most exported commodities from the Global South (sugar, cotton, coffee, tea, precious metals (gold/silver), opium and cereals). They will map the wide-ranging and diverse social consequences of the massive mobilization of labour and land necessary to produce these commodities. They will investigate the role of banks and merchant houses in the production and trade of these commodities.

‘Finally, we will assess the actual contribution of the production of the seven commodities in the Global South to our modern global economy. In doing so, it will break new grounds in our understanding how early on in the nineteenth century global trade and production patterns were established that shaped a world in which immense volumes of goods are transported across the global without much regard for their social and ecological consequences’, says Bosma.

About the European Research Council (ERC)
The ERC, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premier European funding organisation for excellent frontier research. It funds creative researchers of any nationality and age, to run projects based across Europe. The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. In April 2024, Ulbe Bosma was one of the 255 research leaders who received a ERC Advanced Grant. The new grants, worth in total nearly €652 million, are part of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme. This competition attracted 1,829 proposals, which were reviewed by panels of internationally renowned researchers. Nearly fourteen percent of proposals were selected for funding. Estimates show that the grants will create 2,480 jobs in teams of new grantees.