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(In)Equalizers! Social and Economic Histories of Inequality(ies) and Difference(s), 1500-2000


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


Inequality is a pressing societal issue that has garnered recent attention from historians, social scientists, and politicians. However, concerns about differences are not unique to today's societies alone, and inequalities cannot be comprehended, influenced, or altered without understanding their historical roots. Inequalities and the disparities they generate have persisted throughout history, particularly during moments of social and economic upheaval and affirmation. This course addresses why inequalities emerge in human societies between 1500 and 2000. We adopt the multifaceted concept of (social, symbolic, and economic) capital as conceptualized by Bourdieu to grasp the mechanisms underpinning the formation of unequal societies. Our analysis centres on four global historical developments that exemplify the entrenched nature of inequalities over time and continue to serve as breeding grounds for contemporary inequality: 1) the transition from colonialism to imperialism (manifesting in myriad exploitative forms); 2) global labour relations (characterized by varying degrees of 'unfreedoms'); 3) welfare provisioning (especially concerning (dis)ability); 4) the ascendance of (neo)-liberal efficient societies. Although grounded in a conceptual framework, this course underscores the significance of primary source materials in analysing inequality on a global scale and enthusiastically supports interdisciplinary work (also as part and parcel of the final mark). As historical sources attest, colonialism/imperialism, labour, welfare provisioning, and efficient (liberal) societies are intertwined in the histories of both Western and non-Western societies, laying the groundwork for current manifestations of difference and inequality worldwide. This course is suitable for students interested in (social and economic) colonial and imperial history, global history of labour, histories of welfare and (neo)liberal societies.

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

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); when focusing on an economic subject, on the origin and outcomes of the Great Divergence, developments in political economy since ca 1600, increasing global interdependence throughout the centuries, and the development of global governance in the twentieth century.

  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subtrack in question, with a particular focus on the following:

  • in the specialisation *Cities, Migration and Global Interdependence**, including the subtrack Governance of Migration and Diversity: the interdisciplinary approach (application of theories, models and methods from social sciences and economics, when relevant), the comparative perspective (diachronic and synchronic) and working with a large variety of primary sources.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  1. gains knowledge and insight into Early Modern and Modern theoretical approaches to (in)equality and diversity;

  2. acquires the ability to study (in)equality and diversity from a comparative perspective (diachronic and synchronic);

  3. acquires the ability to work with a large variety of primary sources;

  4. acquires the abilitity to work together with students from another academic discipline on a casestudy of inequality and/or diversity;

  5. (ResMA only): develops the ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources; the ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debates; and acquires knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialization.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the lecturer 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 lecturer will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)

measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-15 (ResMA also 10 and 17)

  • Oral presentation

measured learning objectives: 3-7, 11-15

  • Assignment 1 (interdisciplinary project)

measured learning objectives: 16

  • Assignment 2 (submission preliminary paper)

measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-15 (ResMA also 10 and 17)

  • Assignment 3 (peer review)

measured learning objectives: 9


  • Written paper: 70 %

  • Oral presentation: 10%

  • Assignment 1: 10%

  • Assignment 2: 5%

  • Assignment 3: 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 sufficent.


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

To be announced


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.

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


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

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