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Circulation of People, Commodities and Ideas in the Indian Ocean World (1500-1800)


Admission requirements

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


In this course we will read and discuss some major works that deal with the early-modern circulation of peoples, commodities and ideas across the Indian Ocean world (including the South China Sea). We will start with a Braudelian perspective on the ocean as a connecting zone between continents and civilizations and will zoom in more particularly on the movement of peoples, crossregional commercial, religious and intellectual networks, as well as cultural encounters and changing knowledge systems. The course aims to integrate European and Asian sources and agencies to gain a better understanding of the Indian Ocean as a global crossroads of civilizations before the period of high imperialism.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  • 1) The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  • 2) 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;

  • 3) 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;

  • 4) The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  • 5) (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:

  • 6) 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 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).

  • 7) (ResMA only): Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Literature Seminar

The student will

  • 8) gain knowledge of the main historiographical and historical developments in the Indian Ocean region between 1500-1800


The timetable is available on the MA History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (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.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Lectures: 14 hrs

  • Preparation tutorials: 4 hrs

  • Study of compulsory literature: 220 hrs

  • Assignment(s): 2 hrs

  • Preparation exam: 40 hrs (essay)

Assessment method


  • Essay
    Measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4-6, 8

  • Assignment 1 (Discussion research question)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4-6, 8

  • Assignment 2 (Discussion monograph)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-2, 4-6, 8

  • Assignment 3 (Critical reflection on Assignment 2)
    Measured learning objectives: 3


  • Written paper: 40 %

  • Oral presentation: see assignments

  • Assignment 1: 20 %

  • Assignment 2: 20 %

  • Assignment 3: 20 %

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 Blackboard.


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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines

Reading list

Introduction: Jos Gommans, “Continuity and Change in the Indian Ocean Basin, 1400-1800”, in Jerry H. Bentley, Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks and Sanjay Subrahmanyam (eds), The Cambridge History of the World, Vol. 6, Part 1: The Construction of a Global World, 1400-1800 CE (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 182-210.


Week 1:
Chaudhuri, K. N., Trade and Civilization in the Indian Ocean: An Economic History from the Rise of Islam to 1750 (Cambridge University Press, 1985)

Week 2:
Wink, André, Al-Hind: The Making of the Indo-Islamic World (Leiden and Boston: Brill,

Week 3:
Reid, Anthony, Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce 1450-1680 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1988-1993).


Week 4:
Casale, Giancarlo, The Ottoman Age of Exploration (Oxford University Press, 2010).

Week 5:
Aslanian, Sebouh David, From the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean: The Global Trade Networks of Armenian Merchants from New Julfa (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011).

Week 6:
Ho, Engseng, The Graves of Tarim: Genealogy and Mobility across the Indian Ocean (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006).


Week 7:
Ward, Kerry, Networks of Empire: Forced Migration in the Dutch East India Company (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009)


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


J. Gommans