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European Overseas Commercial Companies, 1600-1750: Bringing Back the Human Agency Perspective

Vak 2016-2017

Admission requirements

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

Description

The strong focus on overseas commercial companies as representatives of a formal, state-supported empire building has overlooked a whole part of European expansions, namely, the agency of individuals engaging in these expansions. Only by exploring actors and their motives in relation to the company structure, can we understand how and why the different paths of empire building developed the way that they did.

Despite the success-stories of the Dutch VOC and the English EIC, many of these enterprises experienced an utter economic failure. Why did merchants, investors and colonial officials continue to involve themselves in these companies? What freedom did these individuals have to develop their networks and to follow their own interest in the metropolis or overseas, and what advantages did that bring, both to the individual agent and the companies?

In this course we will critically question the established narratives and truths about chartered companies, asking what a company was, and what it was supposed to achieve. We will understand how overseas companies were heavily dependent on human agency of its actors to solve issues such as slow information communication and development of trust across cultures. The course will therefore fuse agency with structure, aiming to better our understanding of the full impact the overseas trading companies had on early modern society.

Instead of focusing on one specific company, the course aims at constructing a comparative framework by exploring multiple company structures. This will encourage the understanding of different aspects of trading companies across nations. Additionally, this comparative perspective will give students the opportunity to be exposed to different and unusual literature and sources which will broaden their historiographical horizons.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  5. 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;
  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
  7. 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;
  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  9. 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;
  10. (ResMA only): The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations 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);
    • in the subspecialisation Economic History also: the origin and outcomes of the Great Divergence, developments in political economy since ca 1600, increasing global interdependence throughout the centuries, the development of global governance in the twentieth century, as well as the most important debates in recent Economic History;
    • 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 globalisation (in particular during the period 1200-1940).
  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 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;
    • in the subspecialisation Economic History also: the application of economic concepts, research methods or models; insight into the argumentation of current debates;
    • in the specialisation Colonial and Global History: empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

  1. The course aims at challenging traditional national narratives, as well as established ideas and understandings of the role, function and importance of early modern institutions;
  2. Students develop a nuanced understanding of the origin and outcomes of the Great Divergence, developments in political economy since 1600, and increasing global interdependence and connectedness throughout the early modern period;
  3. Students develop the ability to conduct empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective; identify new approaches within existing academic debates; and take a personal position in those debates based on the study of primary sources;
  4. (ResMA only) The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources;
  5. (ResMA only) The ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debates;
  6. (ResMA only) Knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialization.

Timetable

The timetable is available on the MA History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • 13 sessions (2 hours weekly): 26 hours
  • Compulsory literature: 70 hours
  • Specific literature (including oral presentation): 50 hours
  • Research and reading literature for written paper: 100 hours
  • Writing written paper: 35 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (7500 words):
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-18
  • Oral presentation and participation in class discussions
    Measured learning objectives: 7 and 10
  • Feedback (peer review) to fellow students
    Measured learning objectives: 9

Weighing

  • Written paper (7500 words): 70%
  • Oral Presentation: 10%
  • Feedback session: 20%

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

Resit

Students have the chance to revise papers that have been deemed unsatisfactory (marks below 6) within two weeks after tutor’s feedback, at a date to be discussed between student and tutor.

Blackboard

Blackboard will be used for:

  • Posting course packet information
  • Communication with the student group
  • Handing in coursework

Reading list

Compulsory literature will be announced via Blackboard, at least 6 weeks before the start of the course.

Registration

Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.

Contact

Catia Antunes
Julie Mo Svalastog
Elisabeth Heijmans

Remarks

None