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Research Workshop: Sources in Global History


Admission requirements

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


This research workshop focuses on unraveling non-Western agency in both Western and non-Western primary sources. The emphasis is on the culturally specific heuristics and hermeneutics of these sources, which can include archival series, published or unpublished texts as well as visual and oral sources. The examples presented at the course are early-modern and modern, ranging from the Caribbean to Southeast Asia, encompassing South Asia and Africa. Students will participate “on the job” in a course-related project under the supervision of one tutor/researcher who offers projects on the following 5 topics:

  1. Non-Western Agency through Micro-Historical Analysis of Colonial Court Records (Van der Wal)

  2. VOC Sources on Asia: Memoirs of Succession (Gommans)

  3. Oral History: Interviewing Caribbean politicians (Meel)

  4. Textual and visual sources in the history of science and exploration (Sysling)

In each project students work together in a group on primary sources of a particular genre, theme or region. Under supervision of a tutor, they meet in three sessions that deal with (1) historiography on non-western agency, (2) source heuristics (how to find relevant sources) and (3) source-hermeneutics (how to read/interpret sources). Students write one paper (circa 1000 words) and prepare a group presentation (15 minutes) for a final workshop nd ResMA students who take the course for 10EC also prepare an edited volume on the topic (apart from editing this involves writing an introduction and a conclusion, each of circa 1000 words).

Please note that some time before the start of the workshop students will be invited to indicate their first, second and third choice regarding the five projects. We cannot ensure, though, that all wishes can be fulfilled as we also aim at equal distribution to make sure that all groups have a similar size.

Below a concise description of the four projects:

  1. Non-Western Agency through Micro-Historical Analysis of Colonial Court Records (Van der Wal)

The workshop aims to uncover instances of non-western agency within colonial sources by examining court records, notably from the Council of Justice at the Cape of Good Hope, part of the VOC archives. These records, often seen as the epitome of the colonial gaze, reflect the perspectives of colonial professionals yet at the same time provide insights into the complexities of everyday life of colonial subjects and enslaved in the 18th-century Cape Colony. By engaging with specific case records, students will analyse nuances and implications to humanize muted voices and explore the agency of non-western actors. Presented in their original Dutch form, with English translations provided, these transcripts serve as a testament to the enduring relevance of archival research in reshaping historical narratives.

  1. VOC Sources on Asia: Memoirs of Succession (Gommans)

In this project we will explore the (im)possibilities of a specific genre in the massive VOC archives on Asia. This genre is the so-called Memorie van Overgave which contains the instructions of a regional colonial director to his successor. These Memoirs are quite unique as they give a general survey of the political situation at a particular moment in time about one particular region where the VOC was active. In addition, they often provide guidelines about how to administer such a region. Obviously, this is a colonial source (sometimes published, translated) that gives much agency to the Dutch administrator in charge, but it also offers a unique window on the indigenous societies that he writes about. In this course we will try to situate this genre in the context of other sources (both within the VOC as beyond in the relevant regional languages).

  1. Oral history - Interviewing Caribbean actors (Meel)

This workshop discusses the art of doing oral history and the potential of the resultant oral history sources for Caribbean studies. The starting point is that there is a scholarly need to give voice to non-western actors and properly include their ideals, goals, and achievements in historical narratives. The instructor will share his experiences with interviewing Surinamese politicians and using their eyewitness accounts in his scholarly work. Students will analyze interviews with Jamaican politicians and oral history-based documentaries about the so-called Windrush generation. They will pay attention to the interaction between interviewers and interviewees, the agency displayed by non-western actors and matters of reliability. Regarding the latter not only the conversation with other sources is of importance, but also the commitment of historians to do justice to the authenticity of testimonies made available by interviewees.

  1. Textual and visual sources in the history of science and exploration (Sysling)

This project engages students in ongoing research about indigenous actors in the history of science and knowledge practices in late modern colonial Indonesia. During scientific fieldwork in this region, local informants and assistants did a lot of the work: they collected plants and hunted animals and played an important role in providing guidance and information, contributions that were often erased in official publications. In this workshop we will discuss if and how historians can recover the roles of these indigenous actors. Our primary approach will involve using visual sources to establish counternarratives that challenge the dominant textual ones.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;

  2. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  3. 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;

  4. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;

  5. 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;

  6. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  7. 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;

  8. (ResMA only:) The ability to serve as editor-in-chief of an edited volume which involves the bringing together of various papers on a topic, providing both an introduction (1000 words) and a conclusion (1000 words) which gives scholarly cohesion of the volume as a whole.

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 Colonial and Global History: how global (political, socio-economic, and cultural) connections interact with regional processes of identity and state formation; hence insight in cross-cultural processes (including the infrastructure of shipping and other modes of communication) that affect regions across the world such as imperialism, colonisation, islamisation, modernisation and globalization (in particular during the period 1200-1940);
    -in the subtrack Maritime History also: the development of maritime history from the 16th century onwards; insight into recent issues in the field;
    -in the subtrack Postcolonial and Heritage Studies: the history and politics of cultural knowledge production and heritage formation (including archives) in colonial and postcolonial situations, at local, transnational and global levels; insight into processes of cultural decolonization, exploring the nature, legacies and (dis-)connections of colonial power structures in present-day societies, regarding culture, heritage politics, Orientalism, museums, collecting etcetera. Understanding heritage in the broadest sense – including archives, museums, historical sites, objects, sites of memory, rituals – as the prism to study these problems;
  2. 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 Colonial and Global History: empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective;
    -in the subtrack Maritime History also: comparative research; archive research;
    -in the subtrack Postcolonial and Heritage Studies: on postcolonial theory, critical heritage studies, and history of science approaches.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Workshop

The student:

  1. gains insight in theoretical and practical strategies to disentangle non-Western agency in Western and non-Western primary sources.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

The course consists of 5 group tutorials and one workshop.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 1,000 words, based on research in primary sources)
    measured learning objectives: 1-7, 9-11

  • Oral presentation: group presentation of 15 minutes

  • Preparing Edited Volume (2 x 1000 words)
    measured learning objectives: 8


  • Written paper: 20%

  • Oral presentation: 20%

  • Editing: 40%

  • Participation: 20%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that all three components 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

  • Ricardo Roque and Kim A. Wagner, “Introduction: Engaging Colonial Knowledge”, in Ricardo Roque and Kim A. Wagner (eds), Engaging Colonial Knowledge; Reading European Archives in World History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012): 1-31

  • All other readings will be provided through the five projects.


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

General information about course and exam enrolment is available on the website


  • For course related questions, contact the coordinator listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


Some time before the start of the workshop students will be invited to indicate their first, second and third choice regarding the five projects. We cannot ensure, though, that all wishes can be fulfilled as we also aim at equal distribution to make sure that all groups have a similar size.