Research Seminar on International Trade History
a lecture by Professor David Gordon Kirby
Date & Time: Friday, April 9, 1999 14:00-17:00 The University of Tokyo
Lecturer: David Gordon Kirby, Professor at the University of London
Title: Patterns of Trade in the Baltic
Reported by: FUKUSAWA Katsumi
Professor Kirby specializes in the history of Northern Europe and the Baltic area with particular emphasis on the history of modern Finland. He presented a wide survey of trade in the Baltic from the early Middle Ages to modern times. After explaining the characteristics of the shipping lanes and hinterlands of the Baltic Sea which freezes over in winter, he discussed the patterns of trade in the Baltic during each historical period.
In the early Middle Ages, most of the trade was in luxury goods with imports such as glassware, weapons, and armor, and exports such as furs, amber, and beeswax. However, starting in the 12th Century, due to the increased demand for food and raw materials in Western Europe, Baltic exports turned to lower cost, heavier weight products. In addition, West European imports of textile goods decreased in the later Middle Ages, and at the same time, the Scanian market began to decline.
The transition from the Middle Ages to modern times is often described as being characterized by the shift of the main trade center from the Hanseatic cities to the Netherlands. However, the commercial importance of the Hansa extended beyond its role in Baltic-North Sea trade and remained central far into modern times due to its role in inter-Baltic trade and overland trade in Central Europe.
Baltic trade depended not only on such socioeconomic factors, but was also affected by the sedimentation (caused by the melting of glaciers) which caused the downfall of the ports on the eastern shores of the Zuider Zee.
While it is true that the Netherlands dominated trade in the Baltics during the 17th-century, the multi-layered effect on Dutch economy and the role of Dutch merchants in the process of subsuming the Baltic Sea area into a global market are topics for further discussion.
One of the reasons that the Baltics became primarily known for exporting primary products is that it borders unexploited areas, and increasing population did not bring about urbanization.
In his lecture, Professor Kirby advocated research focusing on merchants overcoming national borders rather than focusing on the subject of trade in general.