The Great Asian Deerskin Boom: Consumer Revolution, Inter-Asian Trade, and Environmental Degradation, 1600-1800

Collaborative Group

Professor Xing Hang, Professor Daniel Botsman, Dr. Adam Clulow




During the early modern period, the deerskin trade stretched across Asia, binding hunters, shippers, artisans, and consumers together in sprawling networks. Propelled by voracious demand for soft and pliable leather, hundreds of thousands of skins were shipped out each year, first, from hunting grounds across Southeast Asia and, later, from Ezo (Hokkaido) to Japan’s booming ports and cities. While a great deal is known about the wider impact of European consumers via their demand for commodities, this project examines how the purchasing choices of Asian consumers for the most quotidian of items—deerskin socks and purses—created a powerful, transregional engine that connected and transformed early modern Asia. Combining environmental, legal, social, and economic history, the project shows how the deerskin trade remade a vast region of the world, sparked the creation of new zones of maritime jurisdiction, and drove conflict between different status groups in Japan. Looking across the full extent of the deerskin commodity chain challenges the prevailing image of Tokugawa Japan as a uniquely sustainable society by showing how the green fields of the archipelago depended on the availability of a wider hinterland that could be tapped for natural resources to feed Japan’s consumer revolution. The project brings together historians Xing Hang, Daniel Botsman, and Adam Clulow. Hang has written widely on Chinese mercantile networks and port settlements in early modern maritime Asia with particular focus on Eurasian integration and economic transition. Botsman is a Tokugawa specialist with expertise in studying Japan’s outcaste communities. Clulow is an expert on the Dutch East India Company, trade between Southeast Asia and Japan and early modern legal networks. The three scholars have worked closely together on several previous collaborations including a series of chapters and a journal special issue. This project will result in a workshop and a series of joint publications, including a coauthored monograph. Award period: July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2021