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In safe haven? Daily life of Dutch merchant seamen in World War II (Maritime History)


Admission requirements

Knowledge of the Dutch language, as archival sources and literature will be in Dutch.


Publications about the merchant navy at war predominantly examine shipping and transport. The social aspects of seafaring in wartime were hardly investigated. This research seminar covers the experiences of the seamen bringing the students close to the daily lives of sailors at dangerous seas and in foreign harbours. Between 1940 and 1945 eight hundred ships, manned by more than 18.000 merchant seamen, were commissioned as ‘war ships’. The crews, all civilians doing their normal job in abnormal circumstances, were forced to service. For six, sometimes seven years, they were exiled from Holland and their families. More than 3.600 merchant seamen lost their lives because of enemy action or the perils of their occupation. At a rough estimate only 3% deserted. After a survey of recent literature, students do research based on primary source materials such as public and shipping company archives, (diplomatic) correspondence, diaries and personal service records to study the activities of Dutch merchant seamen at sea and ashore in the Pacific and the Atlantic. Students will watch the documentary film ‘Een vergeten zeemansgeschiedenis’ (Goert Giltaij, 2010) and discuss seafaring live in wartime with veterans of the merchant navy during a round-table meeting to compare individual stories and experiences.

Course objectives

  • To bring new perspectives of Dutch merchant shipping in wartime;

  • To gain research abilities in a variety of primary sources;

  • To gain experience in presentation and discussion;

  • To report on research findings orally and in writing.


See here.

Mode of instruction

Research seminar

Assessment method

Presentations (25%) and a paper of 7500 words max. (75%)


Yes, for communication, powerpoints and course documents.

Reading list

A reading list will be announced at the beginning of the research seminar.


via uSis.

Contact information

Email: Ms.dr. A. van Dissel