London: The Selden Map and the Making of a Global City, 1549–1689

London: The Selden Map and the Making of a Global City, 1549–1689, University of Chicago Press

Available January 2014


If one had looked for a potential global city in Europe in the 1540s, the most likely candidate would have been Antwerp, which had emerged as the center of the German and Spanish silver exchange as well as the Portuguese spice and Spanish sugar trades. It almost certainly would not have been London, an unassuming hub of the wool and cloth trade with a population of around 75,000, still trying to recover from the onslaught of the Black Plague. But by 1700 London’s population had reached a staggering 575,000—and it had developed its first global corporations as well as relationships with non-European societies outside the Mediterranean. What happened in the span of a century and half? And how exactly did London transform itself into a global city?

London’s success, Robert K. Batchelor argues, lies not just with the well-documented rise of Atlantic settlements, markets, and economies. Using his discovery of a network of Chinese merchant shipping routes on John Selden’s map of China as his jumping-off point, Batchelor reveals how London also flourished because of its many encounters, engagements, and exchanges with East Asian trading cities. Translation plays a key role in Batchelor’s study—translation not just of books, manuscripts, and maps, but also of meaning and knowledge across cultures—and Batchelor demonstrates how translation helped London understand and adapt to global economic conditions. Looking outward at London’s global negotiations, Batchelor traces the development of its knowledge networks back to a number of foreign sources and credits particular interactions with England’s eventual political and economic autonomy from church and King.

London offers a much-needed non-Eurocentric history of London, first by bringing to light and then by synthesizing the many external factors and pieces of evidence that contributed to its rise as a global city. It will appeal to students and scholars interested in the cultural politics of translation, the relationship between merchants and sovereigns, and the cultural and historical geography of Britain and Asia.

Anthony Grafton’s Times Literary Supplement Review

Steven Pincus, Yale University
“Robert K. Batchelor’s elegantly written and lavishly illustrated book is a remarkable achievement. He explains how changes in East Asia made London into a global city. In so doing he forces us to recalibrate our notions of the coming of modernity. Modernity in Batchelor’s hands emerges not from Europe but on a global scale and through translation rather than European imposition. This is an immensely learned and stimulating book that will provoke widespread reflection and debate.”
Haun Saussy, University of Chicago
“Robert K. Batchelor’s London renews the ‘origins of modernity’ debate. The time when London—rather than England—was a rising power saw a furor of translation and adaptation, long chains of influence visible only at their ends, and a degree of institutional creativity we can envy. With detail, passion, and curiosity Batchelor reconstructs the multipolar world of the first half of the seventeenth century, as plotted by men for whom knowledge was power.”
Philip J. Stern, Duke University
“In this stunningly detailed, engaging, and polyglot study, Robert K. Batchelor plots us a map of the early modern English encounter with Asia, triangulated among the intimately related enterprises of translation, cartography, and commercial and colonial expansion. Following the circulation of manuscripts and maps alongside merchants, missionaries, and marauders alike, this book finds a strikingly complex genealogy not only of John Selden’s remarkable map of China but of the development of London—and even modernity itself—in a seventeenth-century global context.”
John E. Wills Jr., University of Southern California
“In the course of a tumultuous seventeenth century, London changed from an energetic newcomer on the fringes of old Europe to a global center of trade, power, and interactive knowledge. In a work of amazing erudition and ambition, Robert K. Batchelor shows how new forms of organization and knowledge of more Asian histories and languages shaped this transformation.”

For other publications by Robert Batchelor see his site on