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Agentschap Overzee

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Agents overseas. The principal-agent problem in early modern Dutch chartered companies

Could early modern chartered companies effectively ensure that their agents overseas were working in the best interests of the firm rather than in their own personal interests? This principal-agent problem has been the topic of a number of important studies in early modern economic history. This article contributes to the debate by elaborating on two case-studies from the two large Dutch chartered trading companies, the East- and the West India Companies (VOC and WIC respectively). Exploration of the careers of two individuals within these companies shows that supervision ‐ and indeed career-making ‐ was frequently a matter of unwritten rules and codes of conduct. While formal written rules might be found lacking, control could still be exerted through patronage or family ties. But this presented the companies with other challenges as well. In studying principal-agent problems, researchers in economic history need to be aware of informal mechanisms of control as well as formal ones.
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Keywords: Dutch East India Company (VOC); Dutch West India Company (WIC); careers; chartered companies; principal-agent problem

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 October 2018

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  • Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis (TvG) bestrijkt als enig Nederlandstalig historisch-wetenschappelijk tijdschrift de geschiedenis van alle tijden en van de hele wereld. TvG biedt auteurs uit de geschiedwetenschap en aanverwante disciplines een gereputeerd, Nederlandstalig podium voor kwalitatief hoogstaand en origineel onderzoek. Sinds zijn eerste verschijning in 1886 is Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis uitgegroeid tot een historisch tijdschrift dat wetenschappelijkheid op succesvolle wijze combineert met toegankelijkheid, dat inspeelt op actuele trends, dat respectvol omgaat met historiografische tradities, maar ook openstaat voor experiment en interdisciplinariteit. Het tijdschrift biedt een cruciale brugfunctie tussen enerzijds het internationale onderzoeksveld en anderzijds geschiedenisstudenten en -docenten, en een anderszins geïnteresseerd publiek.

    Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis (Journal of History) is the only Dutch scholarly history journal that covers history for all periods and worldwide. Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis is a general historical journal, which means that it covers all historical disciplines and related disciplines. Since its founding in 1886 Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis has grown into a key journal that combines academic research on historical topics with accessibility to an audience within and outside academia.
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