Commodity trade and global institutions. A multidisciplinary approach to the governance of global markets in the 20th century

UNIL principal investigator

Prof. Thomas David, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences

UNIPD principal investigator

Prof. Marco Bertilorenzi, DISSGeA


Joint seminar / conference involving early-stage researchers


During the 20th century, the global market of commodities emerged as a multilevel and fragmented governance in which, aside official international and multilateral organizations, private actors also played a major role, providing self-regulations approaches to markets. In different historical contexts, international organizations, like the League of Nations, the International Chamber of Commerce, the United Nations (the Unctad for instance), the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and others tried either to stabilize prices and revenues from trade and use trade as a lever to develop national economies or operated a clear policy of trade opening. Commodity traders, speculators, financial intermediaries and specialized commodity exchanges are also important actors in this story who cooperated, and sometimes competed, in the governance of market with different economic goals. An interdisciplinary approach to the history of commodity trade can show that the issue of the market governance is a complex interaction between actors, visions and goals, which often resulted in a inconsistent approach. This research program would like to discuss the nexus between private and public governance, between trade and development, between finance and trade, between theories and practices and to provide new ideas in the international debate about the governance of commodity markets.


The foreseen activity is a 2 days workshop in Padova, which will be attended by scholars from both universities and will foresaw the attendance of other scholars from external institutions, to discuss interdisciplinary methodologies and research related approaches in the exploration of the global governance of commodity trade. In both universities, long term cooperation and strong competencies are available to set up a consistent research program and to explore the history of global trade of commodities. In Lausanne, the project will be headed by Thomas David, who is an internationally recognized specialist of the history of business associations, in particular the International Chamber of Commerce, which is the most influential business international association as it provided, mostly in collaboration with international organizations (League of Nations; United Nations), rules and regulatory frameworks to international trade since its inception in 1919. He is carrying out an extensive archive research on this organization, with the help of Pierre Eichenberger, Guillaume Beausire, Paia Muller and Madeleine Dungy with particular attention to its role in the trade of commodities. David and Eichenberger already developed a research group about transnational economic governance, which became a panel at the 2018 World Economic History Conference in Boston. In Padova, the project will be head by Marco Bertilorenzi, who has extensively published on the history of international cartels, of agreements in commodities, and of global commodity trade. He already carried out an excellence research program, within the framework of Rita Levi Montalcini Fellowships, about the futures trading and financialization in the commodities markets in the 20th century. In Padova, he will collaborate with other experts, like Andrea Caracausi, who teaches a courses on Commodity Chain, Lucia Coppolaro, a specialist of the history of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff, Francesco Petrini, a specialist of the history of oil trade and multinationals, and Diego Zannoni, a specialist in the field of international trade law.

In the workshop, these scholars will be present their research, approaches, sources, and methodologies to explore the nexus between the governance provided by international organizations and by global private actors. The main goal will be to explore the possibility to formulate a common proposal for either a special issue on a top journal of economic/business/international journal or an edited collection for an international research publisher (like Routledge, Palgrave or a leading University Press). Another goal is the dissemination of methodologies, research questions and approaches within early carrier scholars (PhD students and post-doc researchers).

Potential for follow-up activities

This workshop has the final goal to outlet in breakthrough publications on the topic of commodities (edited volumes with top academic publishers and/or special issues in top journals). For doing that, it can entail further workshops, the participation of UNIL-UNIPD scholar to joint programs and sessions in relevant congresses, the joint participation of UNIL-UNIPD scholars to call for funding, and even the establishment of a permanent joint UNIL-UNIPD network about the History of Commodity.

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