How Cotton conquered the World

Palempore aux ambassadeurs, Inde, 18e siècle. ©Musée national suisse

The new permanent exhibition (Chintz. How a Fabric Conquered the World), interweaves local and global history and considers Switzerland’s links to the wider world in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

It sheds light on the involvement of many Swiss people and businesses in key chapters of the modern period, including industrialisation, trade, colonisation and slavery.

Traders in Geneva imported fabrics from India to sell in Bordeaux, from where they were sent on to Brazil. Merchants in Basel set up in Nantes to better fund and combine cargoes for the slave trade. Officers from Neuchâtel served the powerful Dutch East India Company. Swiss plantation owners or managers made use of slave labour. The printed cotton fabrics are regarded as the first product of globalisation.

The exhibition forms part of the new Chintz Centre.

Between the 17th and 19th centuries, printed cotton fabrics transformed Switzerland into one of the world’s leading textile-producing nations. the cotton products, along with weaving and spinning, played a key role in the country’s industrialisation and cemented its role in global trade.

An interactive map documents the various centres of manufacture in Switzerland in the 18th century.