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Asian Events in Early Modern European Sources: Information Transfer and Genres in the Production of Knowledge


Admission requirements

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


In this course we will study how events and developments in early-modern Asia were reported in various Dutch and other European-language sources. We will specifically investigate the chain of information that was produced by these events from Asian source to European destination. Moving through the communication lines of European trading companies, missionary organizations, and intellectual or artistic networks, destinations could include secret company records, private papers, scholarly treatises, news media, published novels and travel accounts, paintings, and plays.
The course will focus on the case of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and its various layers from the local factories in Asia, to and through Batavia, to the Netherlands. It will be analyzed how information was recorded and passed through the various Company channels, how it was transformed as a result of this process, and how it was eventually filed and disseminated. Students will also compare and connect the transfer of information within the VOC with other circuits of information, both European (e.g. other Companies) and Asian. Hence, we will study how various reporting genres (both within and beyond the VOC) produced particular information discourses and how these affected the production of (confidential and public) knowledge.

Introductory texts:

  • Manjusha Kuruppath, Staging Asia: The Dutch East India Company and the Amsterdam Theatre, c. 1650 to 1780 (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2016), pp. 9-61.

  • James Tracy, “Asian Despotism? Mughal Government as seen from the Dutch East India Company Factory in Surat”, Journal of Early Modern History, 3, 3 (1999), pp. 256-80.

Entry test:
An entry test will consist of an oral exam in the second week of circa 30 minutes about Femme S. Gaastra, The Dutch East India Company: Expansion and Decline (Zutphen: Walburg Pers, 2003) and relevant chapters (pp. to be provided later) in Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998).

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:

  • 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 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);
    -in the subspecialisation Maritime History also: the development of maritime history from the 16th century onwards; insight into recent issues in the field.

  • 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 Colonial and Global History: empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective;
    -in the subspecialisation Maritime History also: comparative research; archive research.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) gains thorough knowledge and experience of the early modern information circuits between Europe and Asia, more in particular that of the VOC

  • 14) gains thorough knowledge of the organization of the VOC archive and how how to get access to, and make use of that archive

  • 15) gains initial paleographic skills in reading seventeenth and eighteenth-century Dutch manuscripts

  • 16) (ResMA only – Research MA students should be able to make a comparative analysis between two distinct information circuits (to be specifically addressed in their paper and shown during oral presentations)


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

  • Entry test: 1 hr

  • Lectures: 23 hrs

  • Practical work: 80 (visit archive, reading archival materials)

  • Preparation tutorials: 36

  • Study of compulsory literature: 40

  • Assignment(s): 100

Assessment method


  • Entry test
    measured learning objectives: 4

  • Group Assignment: Introducing one information circuit
    measured learning objectives: 1-4

  • Individual Assignment 1: Work in progress (oral) report
    measured learning objectives: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-11-12

  • Individual Assignment 2: Comment on Group Assignment (oral)
    measured learning objectives: 9-10

  • Written paper (6500-7500 words, based on research in primary sources, excluding title page, table of contents, footnotes and bibliography)
    measured learning objectives: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-10

Week 1: Introduction to the theme (see readings)
Week 2: Visit National Archives
Week 3: Entry tests plus selection of event
Week 4: Group Assignment and Individual Assigment 2: VOC genres
Week 5: Group Assignment and Individual Assigment 2: Eurasian information circuits beyond the VOC
Week 6: Group Assignment and Individual Assigment 2: Eurasian information circuits beyond the VOC
Week 7: Practicum
Week 8: Practicum
Week 9: Practicum
Week 10: Individual Assignment 1
Week 11: Individual Assignment 1
Week 12: Individual Assignment 1


  • Written paper: 60 %

  • Entry Test: 10 %

  • Group Assignment: 10 %

  • Individual Assignment 1: 10 %

  • Individual Assignment 2: 10 %

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 Blackboard.


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

Exam review

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

Except for the books by Gaastra and Israel for the entry test, all mandatory reading materials will be available online or through open stacks in the University Library.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory. General information about uSis is available.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


J. Gommans