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Research Workshop: Tobacco: global connections and local transformations through a smoky lens?


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


Tobacco is the central theme to this research workshop, which principal aim is to make students more acquainted with doing historical research based on primary sources.

Tobacco - a Native American plant which grows in both tropical and moderate climate - was embraced by sailors, soldiers, merchants, and other agents of early modern globalization and through them disseminated around the world. Subsequently, tobacco was planted, processed, and used in fast growing proportions in Africa, Asia and Europe. A substance with addictive qualities, with the ability to postpone fatigue and hunger, and a strong connection to the ritually and socially interesting body practice of smoking (‘drinking smoke’), it transformed consumer cultures all over the globe. The ‘new drug’ was often produced locally as well as commercially and was connected by a worldwide web of trade in (half) products going in many directions. It was subject to prohibitions, illicit trade, the history of enslaved labour, and was part of prescribed rations for consumption in various unfree situations, such as on plantations and ships. Its early commercial branding was marked by gendered worlds of factory labour and consumption, as well as increasingly racialized identities (racist advertising). It has a long history of claims on medical or health (dis)advantages and in more recent times this is subject of a political struggle between global tobacco capital and a health-inspired anti-smoking movement.

The history of tobacco can be studied from many angles, using a variety of sources. This offers students an opportunity to pick an angle of their favour and to discuss in class the possibilities and limitations of various types of sources.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

    1. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
    1. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
    1. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;
    1. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
    1. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
    1. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
    1. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;
    1. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
      -in the specialisation Cities, Migration and Global Interdependence: the manner in which migrations (of people, goods and ideas) between and within states have led to shifts (in cohesion, ethnic composition, policies, imaging, culture, and power relations) in the period 1600-2000, with a focus on (urban) networks (within and across borders);
    1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following;
      -in the specialisation Cities, Migration and Global Interdependence: the interdisciplinary approach (application of theories and methods from social sciences), the comparative perspective (diachronic and synchronic) and working with a large variety of primary sources;

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Workshop

The student:

    1. Is acquainted with the historiographical trends with regard to the history of tobacco, in one or more of the following fields: global trade, labour history, and history of consumer culture, history of colonial representations and racial stereotypes, social and gender history of smoking or of medicinal or political historical aspects.
    1. Is aware of the possibilities and limitations of research using a diversity of primary sources, such as (business, notarial, inventory) archives, trade databases, newspaper articles, print art or objects.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Workshop (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 2.500-3000 words, based on research in primary sources)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-12

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 4-6, 10-12

  • Assignment 1 (Historiographical essay)
    Measured learning objectives: 11

  • Assignment 2 (Archive plan)
    Measured learning objectives: 12

  • Assignment 3 (Peer review)
    Measured learning objectives: 7


Written paper: 60%
Oral presentation: 10%
Assignment 1 (historiographical essay): 10%
Assignment 2 (archive plan): 10%
Assignment 3 (peer review): 10%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised.

Reading list

Please, read as an orientation and prepare one of the following two texts for the first meeting:

Beverly Lemire, ‘Chapter 5: Tobacco, and the politics of consumption’, in her book: Global trade and the transformation of consumer cultures: the material world remade, c. 1500-1820 (2018).

Jean Stubbs, “El Habano and the world it has shaped: Cuba, Connecticut and Indonesia”, Cuban studies Volume 41 (2010) 39-67.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Drs. T. Combrink