Matthew Sargent

PhD Candidate, History and Organizational Behavior

University of California, Berkeley
CSTMS Research Unit: Office for the History of Science and Technology
Advisor(s)Jan de Vries, Cathryn Carson, Heather Haveman, James Lincoln, J. Bradford DeLong
Degrees MA (History) :: UC Berkeley
MA (Medieval and Early Modern European Studies) :: Georgetown University
AB (Chemistry and Art History) :: Dartmouth College

Research Areas

History: Globalization of knowledge, cross-cultural information transfer, the role of commercial organizations in the development of science, Early Modern Europe, Southeast Asia.

Organizational theory: Economic sociology, international business, knowledge-based theory of the firm, embeddedness, knowledge transfer, business groups.

Pictured above, with Oliver Williamson (2009 Nobel Laureate in Economics)

My dissertation, “The birth of globalization: cross-cultural knowledge transfers along European-Asian trade routes and the rise of the multinational corporation (1250-1750),” traces European efforts to acquire economically valuable botanical knowledge from indigenous experts in South and Southeast Asia before the rise of colonial states. By tracing the knowledge flows over a long timescale, I demonstrate that the content and quantity of knowledge transfer increased dramatically with the formation of consolidated trading companies such as the Dutch East India Company [VOC]. Businesses and trading enterprise throughout Europe were small scale ventures seldom numbering more than thirty people, but trading companies were organizations of an unprecedented scale – the Florentine Bardi Company had more than 100 employees in the 1330s while the VOC employed more than 10,000 people by 1690. I demonstrate that these firms prospered because of their highly developed information processing capacity, and as their employees encountered sources of potentially valuable knowledge, they were able to co-opt the capabilities of these firms to gather, record, and transmit knowledge, rendering it depersonalized and mobile. The VOC’s impact was not simply efficient information processing; their social policies and hiring practices had significant impact as well. Because it was not economical to allow their employees to bring their wives to Asia for example, VOC policies promoted intermarriage with the local populations, which provided an important mechanism for accessing female areas of expertise, particularly with respect to botanical knowledge and the healing arts, that would have been otherwise inaccessible. The ways in which the firm shaped social interactions were particularly important because knowledge about the uses and properties of plants was rooted in human expertise and could not be gained through unmediated observation of nature.

In addition to my dissertation, my research in organizational theory examines how firms manage cross-cultural information and knowledge transfer and the ways in which pre-existing relationships shape governance choices, patterns strategic alliance partnership, and business strategy.

last updated: April 23rd, 2014