Research team


Elisabeth Heijmans is an economic and social historian specialized in French and Dutch early modern overseas expansions. She is a post-doctoral researcher at the university of Antwerp in the Center for Urban History. She obtained her PhD at Leiden university in 2018 on early modern French empire and overseas companies with a particular emphasis on the role trans-imperial and cross-cultural interactions as well as private interests. Her work challenged the centralized and linear vision of the French early modern expansion. After her PhD, she worked a post-doctoral researcher at Leiden university on the governance of diversity in the early modern Dutch empire. Her current research focuses on French early modern merchants’ expectation of the future and the influence of the enlightenment on their future thinking and actions.

"It is not so much the danger that I feared but the long length of time": Female Merchants and Future Thinking in 18th Century France. 01/04/2023 - 31/03/2024


How did early modern female merchants think about the future, and did their future thinking differ from their male counterparts? The proposed project will create models using the handwritten text recognition software 'Transkribus' to automatically transcribe French female merchant correspondence from the 18th century and produce a large text corpus to answer the research questions. It is important because it allows for a diversity of sources to study different individuals and it avoids the creation of a single narrative of the history of the future. The history of the future is still a rather unexplored field. In addition, despite the growing historiographical trend that brings the economic role of women to the fore, women are nearly absent from studies on future thinking in the past. If they are present, it is as a subject of study by male authors such as the analysis of Diderot's Sur les femmes describing "the differing temporalities of women" that placed women placed women "in an earlier stage of human development" than men. However, rarely are women studied through their own writings. The usual reason for such an oversight is the lack of sources. This is where merchants' letters and in particular the passive correspondence of the Roux collection can help us (partially) rectify this historiographical unbalance. The letters received by the Roux merchant house between 1728 and 1792 include approximately 75.000 letters of 1.500 correspondents of which 72 are women. While they remain a minority, this amount of female correspondence in one archival collection is an absolute gold mine for the historian. Just as their male counterparts, female merchants thought and wrote about the future in their letters. This project will seek to know how they thought about the future and whether, for instance, their place in early modern merchant society altered their future perspective. This project is at the intersection of two flourishing fields: the role of women in the commercial sphere during the early modern period and the history of future thinking. The project will contribute to both historiographical trends by not merely acknowledging the significance of women in the early modern economy but by going beyond that and analysing the ways in which they thought about the future through their own writings.


Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project