Workshop: Politics, trade, diplomacy and power in the Swedish empire during the seventeenth century

Kaarle Wirta
Tampere University

In late February, a group of scholars met at the faculty of Social Sciences at Tampere University. Trivium – Tampere Centre for Classical, Medieval and Early Modern Studies hosted a workshop on the topic of the early modern Swedish empire. This intense yet inspiring day was organized to discuss the development of the Swedish empire in an international framework of analysis. Collectively, the presenters of the workshop are conducting research on the following overlapping questions: what does an international perspective, including here the connections that Sweden maintained with other states, external actors, and commodity and capital chains during the seventeenth century tell us about the concept of empire?

The topic of Swedish power and its seventeenth century state has been researched in the past and therefore the purpose was not to reinvent the wheel all over again, but rather to build upon previous research, and to add new and fresh insights in order to come to novel conclusions. We aim to weave together the threads of previous research and our approach focused on international connections.

Based on the different presentations during the workshop, it was striking in how many different ways, yet with clear entanglements, it is possible to study the Swedish empire. The presentations covered, through various themes, the Swedish empire in an international context: e.g. how Sweden was supplying other empires with natural resources; how it benefitted from the expertise of various foreigners and foreign organizations; and how an empire was based on the notion of being internationally present and recognized. The various diplomatic envoys and trade negotiations presented during the workshop underline how connected and ambitious the empire was. The presentations also demonstrate that from an international perspective, the Swedish empire was perceived to be diverse and heterogenous. Many key merchants, officials and military leaders had foreign background and brought with them expertise previously unknown in Sweden. In Sweden, these international practices, processes and connections were adapted in a local context, and it is precisely these practices, processes and connections we are currently doing research on.

Insigne principale Regni Sueciæ [Jean Le Pautre]
Stockholm, Kungliga biblioteket (CC0 1.0)

We concluded the workshop with a broad discussion on where our approach is heading (as is normally the case in such events). We are currently reformulating and exploring the different comments and feedback we received from colleagues who came to listen to our presentations. We are thankful and happy for their input. We are currently reworking the papers into article drafts. Stay tuned for the following contributions!

We are interested to see how the empire looked like when analyzed from an international perspective. We are less concerned with questions of internal Swedish state building, for which a long discussion already exists. Rather, we are looking at what the diplomatic envoys to the ottoman empire, arms trade with the Iberian kingdoms, trade in naval stores with Europe and legal transplants of foreign organizational models meant in the context of the Swedish empire internationally. As comparative research on the early modern European empires has again grown momentum, we aim to contribute to the field by offering a contribution for a wider international audience. Of course, there is a lot more to be analyzed and researched but we hope that our approach could become an opening towards a wider discussion on how early modern European empires operated internationally, and how the shift in perspective from national to international perspectives can help us explore new contingencies and overlaps with other contemporary powers. In similar fashion, at Leiden University (the Netherlands), current research for example regarding the Dutch empire is under way.

As a coordinator of the workshop, I am truly thankful for the opportunity to host such an inspiring day. Our presenters did a wonderful job and the discussions were indeed stimulating. The different approaches from military, diplomatic, economic, social, cultural and legal history amalgamated in a coherent and thought-provoking day. A special thanks to colleagues, amongst others, Ulla Ijäs, Tiina Miettinen, Jaakko Björklund and Adam Grimshaw who contributed to the discussions with great energy and depth. In my view, it is days like these that give research its true meaning. When you realize that the presentations and approaches of others overlap with your own ideas and experiences, it is incredible how much strength you find in collectives and the joint input fellow colleagues.

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