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Cornerstones of the global economy: colonial households in Jamaica and Suriname and the role of slavery


Admission requirements

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


When Pulitzer Price winner Alex Tizon posthumously published the article ‘My family’s Slave’ in 2017 it sent shockwaves around the world. The place of slaves in households, in the past and present has been an unacknowledged part of the global economy and its history. Dispite the rise of slavery studies, household slavery remains understudied.

Often overlooked in the history of labour and capital, housework has been extremely dynamic, offers a barometer to historic changes in class relations, as well as the practices of race and gender. As Claudia von Werlhof argued, ‘Once we have understood housework, we will understand the economy.’ Social reproduction (making it possible for the economy to exist the next morning) has been a cornerstone of the global economy. The household, like a cornerstone, determines the direction and dimension of the entire structure it supports. The faith of cornerstones, alas, is to be buried in the foundation, while all attention is drawn to the structure above. What goes on in households is more determinative to the global economy than we realize and has a continuous relevance in the economic history from 1600 to the present day.

The literature on colonial slavery has scarcely focused on the household as site of enslavement and resistance. Slavery, race, and gender are the primary foci for studying domestic work during this course. The student’s research papers will focus on household labour in the Dutch and British world and can range from studying colonial households in Jamaica and Suriname to the rise of black servants in European households.

During the first half of the course we will immerse ourselves in the literature on the economic history of housework and bring this in conversation with literature on slavery, gender and race. Students will become acquainted with the historical and methodological debates regarding domestic labour in the global economy and the availability of source material for Jamaica and Suriname. By discussing the merits of different approaches and methodologies used students will orient on how their own research will contribute to slavery history and the economic history of household work. In the second half of the course we will focuss entirely on research and writing.

The entry test of this course requires the students write two pages with thoughts, questions and remarks regarding two texts. The first is the chapter ‘Authority, Alienation and Social Death’ by Orlando Patterson. This text is available in through the Leiden University Library Catalogue. The second is Alex Tizon’s ‘My Family Slave’ available online on the website of The Atlantic.

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 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.

  • 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 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.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student:

  • 13) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the domestic labour debate and the global history of domestic and caregiving workers.

  • 14) (ResMA only – Thorough knowledge of the changes in racial and gendered configurations of slavery and post-slavery households.


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: 6 hours

  • Lectures: 24 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 70

  • Assignment(s): 40

  • Oral presentation: 10

  • Research paper: 130

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, 11-14

  • Entry test (two-pager reflecting on two texts)
    measured learning objectives: 4 and for ResMa 10

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

  • Weekly Assignments week 2-6 (two-pager reflecting on the historiographic relevance and research methodology of the readings)
    measured learning objectives: 8, 9, 13,14


  • Written paper: 60 %

  • Oral presentation: 5 %

  • Weekly assignements: 30 %

  • Entry test: 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.


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

Literature will be made available at the beginning of the course.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available on the website

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. K.J. Fatah Black