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Asian Events in Early Modern European Sources


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. In principle, good Dutch reading skills are essential to attend this course. If you do not have these skills, you are requested to contact the instructor as soon as possible.


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 analysed 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, European (e.g. other Companies) or 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.

As part of the course, we will look in particular at the VOC’s Malabar establishment (kantoor) in south-west India. Malabar provides an interesting and useful case study, both because the local archives of this VOC establishment have been preserved and made available online, and because this establishment reported on local events in exceptional detail, for instance creating continuous diaries solely devoted to Malabar’s kingdoms.

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 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 subtrack Postcolonial and Heritage Studies also: the history and politics of cultural knowledge production and heritage formation (including archives) in colonial and postcolonial situations, at local, transnational and global levels; insight into processes of cultural decolonization, questioning the nature, legacies and (dis-)connections of colonial power structures in present-day societies, regarding culture, heritage politics, Orientalism, museums, collecting etcetera. Understanding heritage in the broadest sense – including archives, museums, historical sites, objects, sites of memory, rituals – as the prism to study these problems.

  1. 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 Colonial and Global History: empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective;

-in the subtrack Postcolonial and Heritage Studies also: on postcolonial theory, critical heritage studies, and history of science approaches.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student has acquired:

  1. thorough knowledge and experience of the early modern information circuits between Europe and Asia, more in particular that of the VOC;

  2. thorough knowledge of the organization of the VOC archive and how to get access to, and make use of that archive;

  3. initial palaeographic skills in reading seventeenth and eighteenth-century Dutch manuscripts.

  4. (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).


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If you are not able to attend, you are 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 you do not comply with the aforementioned requirements, you 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, 16)

  • Oral presentations: group assignments

measured learning objectives: 3-7, 9, 11-15

  • Oral presentation: individual assignment

measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-15 (ResMA also 10, 16)

  • Reviewing other students’ presentations

measured learning objectives: 8-9


  • Written paper: 60 %

  • Group assignment 1: oral presentation: 10 %

  • Group assignment 2: oral presentation: 10 %

  • Individual assignment: oral presentation 10 %

  • Participation and reviewing: 10 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average, with the additional requirement that all subtests must always be sufficient.


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

Provisional list:

Femme S. Gaastra, The Dutch East India Company: Expansion and Decline (Zutphen, 2003).

Eric Ketelaar,Archiving People: A Social History of Dutch Archives (The Hague, 2020), Chapter 10.

Lennart Bes, ‘De archieven van de Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC)’ [forthcoming in textbook].

M.A.P. Meilink-Roelofsz, R. Raben, & H. Spijkerman (red.), De archieven van de Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie / The Archives of the Dutch East India Company (Den Haag, 1992): Chapter 1, sections 1, 2, 6, 8; Chapter 3, introduction, section 3.

Nico Vriend, ‘“An Unbelievable Amount of Paper”: The Information System and Network of the Dutch East India Company’, in Charles Jeurgens, Ton Kappelhof & Michael Karabinos (eds), Colonial Legacy in South East Asia: The Dutch Archives (S@P Yearbook) (The Hague, 2012), pp. 67-95.

Pieter C. Emmer & Jos J.L. Gommans, The Dutch Overseas Empire, 1600-1800 (Cambridge, 2021), pp. 300-10.

Lennart Bes, ‘Provisional Inventory of the Archives of the VOC Establishments Malabar, Coromandel, Surat and Bengal and Legal Successors (so-called ‘Dutch Records’) (1647-) 1664-1825 (-1852)’ (The Hague, 2002)

Miles Ogborn, Indian Ink: Script and Print in the Making of the English East India Company (Chicago/London, 2007), Chapters 1-4.

Maria Pia Donato, ‘Introduction: Archives, Record Keeping and Imperial Governance, 1500-1800’, Journal of Early Modern History, 22:5 (2018), pp. 311-326.

Manjusha Kuruppath, Staging Asia: The Dutch East India Company and the Amsterdam Theatre, c. 1650 to 1780 (Leiden, 2016), Introduction & Chapter 1.

Ann Laura Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton/Oxford, 2009), Chapters 1-2.

Ranajit Guha, ‘The Prose of Counter-Insurgency’, in Ranajit Guha & Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (eds), Selected Subaltern Studies (New York, 1988), pp. 45-84.

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.


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.