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New York and Bombay History from 1500 to the XX Century Essay

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Updated: Apr 1st, 2020

Introduction

The period from 1500 to 1800 relates to the early growth years of both New York and Bombay and forms the basis of this paper. The following discussion compares the two cities in that period under the economic aspect. Its main claim is that New York developed faster in a comprehensive way economically because it served as a center for economic activity in the early North America and Europe trade.

On the other hand, Bombay was a major economic center during the period as well, but its growth was influenced by the early administrators of the city only. As a result, its growth seems linear, while that of New York is multi-directional as seen in the economic activities present in the two cities.

Comparison of New York and Bombay

The foundations of economic functions of New York were laid in 1926.1 This was when New York was bought from native Indians for the equivalent of a few dollars. Historians postulate that the money was paid in the currency used at the time, which were beads, buttons, and other trinkets.2

This marked the first economic activity in New York to involve land, which would later usher the real estate sector of the city. In comparison, Bombay also rose from insignificance to become a commercial, financial and an industrial center.3 The city began as a swamp-ridden cluster of seven islands, which later grew out of its involvement in the growth of India to be considered as one of the places that elites preferred to settle and work.4

In the case of New York, it is early settlers who initiated a range of economic activities, mostly related to trade, but for Bombay, the main economic activity of early settlers was not trade, but the production of goods, mainly agricultural produce. Organized production was first initiated by Portuguese settlers, but true prosperity of the city was brought by the British through their company known as the English East India Company (EEIC).

The actual transaction for transferring ownership of the city was part of a dowry to Charles II.5 The company did not initially transform the city, as it had no major commercial operations that involved people in the city other than agricultural production.

It was later in the 18th century (year 1700 to year 1800) that exports of cotton to China began and vibrancy in the city also attracted migrants looking for employment opportunities and more colonial settlers taking part in the trade. This became a new characteristic of Bombay as a commercial hub for trade in agricultural produce.

As for New York’s economic functions, development was a little different than that of Bombay. The city began as a village-like settlement and its earliest inhabitants were the Dutch settlers, who even referred to the city as New Amsterdam as a way of inferring the importance of its port location and status in intercontinental trade. Although the population of the city in the 17th century was very low compared to today’s population, its density was very high compared to what the city’s infrastructure could support.

Early Dutch settlers were traders and they contributed to the growth of the city as a commercial center, even though there were early attempts to use it as a base for military activities.6 New York also lacked urban theocracy, as it did not have priests and shrines brought or built by immigrants and pilgrims looking for a way to get inspiration (Burrows and Wallace xvi). Everything in New York has a relation to its economic function, which remained the basis of the city’s growth throughout the period of comparison from 1500 to 1800.

Just like New York, Bombay’s commercial significance was initiated by settlers. The settler communities of Bombay (Mumbai) inhabited four islands and came from the main cities of Europe, but they did not have a major influence on the city’s development, other than to pave way for the operations of the EEIC.

It is the Portuguese who seized Mumbai from the Indian Gujarat rulers in 1543, a contrast to the buying of Manhattan by the Dutch in 1626. The original occupation of the EEIC was a lease of the land and population growth led to the transfer of the company’s capital from Surat to Bombay.

Up to this point, critical differences emerge between New York and Bombay. The economic function of the former was built through different interests in trade that were not organized into a company, while the latter was built by a single company and mostly involved the British settler community and the local Indian natives.

By 1750 to 1800, New York had become a financial hub serving as an export and import portal for many of eastern states.7 Trade flourished among merchants within the city, and also beyond the borders of the city. Almost the entire population was engaged in merchant activities in at least one way.

However, for Bombay, various segments of the population were not directly involved in trade. For example, women did not actively participate in economic activities, they however took part in the development of homes, especially among migrant communities where men worked in plantations and early industries of the city.8

As already hinted, there were commercial interests centered on the production of agricultural goods, mainly cotton, and also the EEIC performed non-economic duties to keep the city functioning. Thus, the economic, functional role of Bombay was not as pure as that of New York.

Meanwhile, by 1700 the population of the Bombay had grown and the geographical area now covered 70 kilometers. This was mainly caused by migrants who were moving into the city to take part in the emerging industries. They came mainly to find jobs provided by the EEIC or to support family members who were already working or trading in Bombay.

A few decades later, initial focus on textile industries weaned as the focus was put on industrialization and chemical industries, while the port became congested.9 The development of the city was still in the hands of business interests of private and public agencies, and this continued throughout the 17th century.10 The lack of regulation of growth allowed business interests and urban growth to concentrate on the southern parts of the peninsula.11

Just like in Bombay, it is the emergence of industrialization that ushered sustained growth of commercial activities in New York, with processing and trade of cotton (textile industry) being a key driver. However, for New York, the main economic activity did not shift to nonagricultural products like the case of Bombay.12

Closing Remarks

The economic function of New York developed comprehensively while that of Bombay was a linear development. Traders from European countries settled in the New York and shipped cotton and wheat to Europe, while they sent cultural and early manufactured goods to the western part of the United States.13 In Bombay, all activities centered on EEIC, instead of letting individual trading groups take charge of economic functions.

Bibliography

Burrows, Edwin G and Mike Wallace. Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

Geisst, Charles R. Wall Street: A History : from Its Beginnings to the Fall of Enron (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).

Kidambi, Prashant. The Making of an Indian Metropolis: Colonial Governance and Public Culture in Bombay, 1890 – 1920 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007).

Miller, Jeffrey. Where There’s Life, There’s Lawsuits (Toronto: ECW Press, 2003).

Nakamura, Carolyn. “Mumbai’s quiet histories: Critical intersections of the urban poor, historical struggles, and heritage spaces.” Journal of Social Archeology 14.3 (2014), 271-295.

Narayan, Govind. Govind Narayan’s Mumbai; An Urban Biography from 1863 (New York, NY: Athens Press, 2009).

Swaminathan, R. and Jaya Goyal. Mumbai Vision 2015 (New Delhi: Macmillan India, 2006).

Wright, Langdon G. “Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social Social History of Dutch New York (Book Review).” The Journal of American History 74.1 (1987), 154-155.

Footnotes

1. Jeffrey Miller, Where There’s Life, There’s Lawsuits (Toronto: ECW Press, 2003), 93.

2. Ibid.

3. Prashant Kidambi, The Making of an Indian Metropolis: Colonial Governance and Public Culture in Bombay, 1890 – 1920 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 17.

4. Prashant Kidambi, The Making of an Indian Metropolis: Colonial Governance and Public Culture in Bombay, 1890 – 1920 (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company, 2007), 18.

5. Ibid.

6. Edwin G Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 701.

7. Langdon G. Wright, ‘Holland on the Hudson: An Economic and Social Social History of Dutch New York (Book Review)’, The Journal of American History, 74 (1987), 154.

8. Carolyn Nakamura, ‘Mumbai’s quiet histories: Critical intersections of the urban poor, historical struggles, and heritage spaces’, Journal of Social Archeology, 14 (2014), 275.

9. Ibid.

10. R. Swaminathan and Jaya Goyal, Mumbai Vision 2015 (New Delhi: Macmillan India, 2006), 801.

11. Govind Narayan, Govind Narayan’s Mumbai; An Urban Biography from 1863 (New York, NY: Athens Press, 2009), 306-309.

12. Charles R. Geisst, Wall Street: A History : from Its Beginnings to the Fall of Enron (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 30.

13. Edwin G Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), xvi.

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