Professor Regina Grafe delivers 2024 alumni lecture

Professor Regina Grafe

Economic and social historian of the Iberian world details her extensive research 

Regina Grafe, Professor of Economic History at the University of Cambridge, joined Faculty of History alumni to present her ongoing research on the economic history of the Iberian Empires. 

Professor Grafe focused on the ‘first phase of globalisation’ – a term, she says that “captures a process of increasing global economic interactions which begin with Iberian maritime trade on the western coasts of Africa in the second half of the 15th century, and progressed almost uninterruptedly to the turn of the 19th century, by which time few world regions were outside the dense web of economic ties”.

She spoke of the “European hegemony over the Americas… whose legacies we still suffer today”, but also of the recognition that “European traders and colonisers often had to collaborate with new processes of social, political, economic integration initiated by, what they thought about, as native populations across the globe”.

But rather than “cut-throat competition between empires”, she continued:

“recent studies of English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish and Dutch imperial spaces in the Americas show plenty of complementarity and cooperation… the idea of competition and selection fundamentally misrepresents how European actors engaged with each other, the resources they drew on in global exchanges, and the limitations they faced”.

Instead, she argued that: “cooperation was much more important than competition” in the Imperial Atlantic, “but that takes nothing away from the fact that the end result was European colonial hegemony”. 

Professor Grafe’s lecture was chaired by Ulinka Rublack, Professor of Early Modern European History