nl en

An archival VOC mentality? Archival issues in an early-modern Dutch-Asian context


Admission requirements

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


This Research Seminar focuses on the archives of the VOC or Dutch East India Company. It partly serves as a practical, more specific counterpart of the Literature Seminar. It deals with some of the general archival issues discussed there, but addresses them in the context of a 17th- and 18th-century Dutch-Asian commercial enterprise. While the VOC records formally comprised business administration, in practice they also functioned as a giant repository of valuable and secret information on all sorts of events in early-modern Asia.

The various remaining VOC archives are composed of many different types or even "genres" of documents, including maps. Further, they partly overlap with materials that fall outside the confines of these collections, but are closely related to them, such as private papers, missionary records, travel accounts, and even works of art. These diverse materials were produced with different purposes, are composed and organised in different ways, and present information with different perspecitives.

This seminar considers and compares all these sources from both an archival and a historiographical point of view. It also looks for similarities and differences between, on the one hand, the VOC archives and, on the other hand, archives of contemporaneous Dutch institutions and of other European overseas trading companies. Students who cannot read (old) Dutch may work with such other European records, for example those of the English East India Company.

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

  • 11 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 Archival Studies: archiving in a colonial context; insight into the significance of archiving processes for the way in which a society deals with its documentation heritage in general and its historical practice in particular; disclosure, including digital disclosure, of archives as part of the broader heritage sector.

  • 12 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 Archival Studies: theoretical foundations of archivistics; assessment and selection of archives.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

  • 13 Thorough understanding of the organisation of the VOC archives and how it compares to the organisation of closely related materials (private papers, missionary records, etc.), to archives of contemporaneous Dutch institutions and to records of other European overseas trading companies.

  • 14 Thorough understanding of how these various organisational principles are related to the objectives and audiences of those materials and the sort and tone of information they contain.

  • 15 The ability to analyse and compare archives created in an early-modern Dutch-non-Western context.

  • 16 (ResMA only): The ability to set up and carry out original research that raises new questions, pioneers new apporaches and/or points to new directions for future research.


The timetable is available on the History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Seminar attendance: 26 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 50 hours

  • Assignment(s): preparation for lectures and presentations: 27 hours

  • Research and writing paper: 177 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-15 (ResMA also 10 and 16)

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 9

  • Assignment 1 (writing literature review and research plan)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8

  • Assignment 2 (reviewing other students research plans)
    Measured learning objectives: 8-9


Written paper: 70 %
Oral presentation: 15%
Assignment 1: 10: %
Assignment 2: 5%

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.


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


Blackboard will be used for:

  • posting powerpoint presentations and literature

  • communication between lecturer and students

Reading list

Literature will be announced closer to the start of the course and/or during classes. No literature needs to be studied beforehand.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch


Lennart Bes