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The Genesis of Informal Empires, 1415-1776


Admission requirements

BSA norm and a pass for both first year Themacolleges.


This course looks into the detailed actions of free agents when opposing colonial monopolies (territorial, economic, religious) during the Early Modern period and the way central states and monopolies reacted to this defiance. The actions of free agents will be considered within three categories: opposition (illegality, defiance and litigation), cooperation (shareholding, lobbying and subcontracting) and appropriation/representation (working for the colonial monopolies within the colonial administration, the army or religious missions). These processes of opposition, cooperation and appropriation/representation led to the construction of informal empires characterized by being borderless, self-organized, cross-cultural, multi-ethnic, pluri-national and stateless.

Even if states and colonial monopolies were permanently challenged, they did not stand idle against the actions of the free agents. The empire stroke back by using punitive actions (punishment of illegality, of conspiracies and political/religious subversion), collaborative endeavors (through the gathering of capital, contracting knowledge and allow for influencing political decision making) and incorporative actions (contracting personnel, institutionalizing monopolies and ask for consultancy/advice). The outcome of the state’s measures against free agency determined the limits of the formal empire with a clear territorial definition, institutionally organized, sectorial mono-culturalism, multi-ethnic, pluri-national and part and parcel of a process of central state building, as the formal empire became an extension of the state.

This course is part of a trilogy of BA courses (Fighting Monopolies, Defying Empires; The Genesis of Informal Empires and Religion and Trade in the Construction of Empire) and one MA Research Seminar (A Tale of Cross-Culturalism) dedicated to the study of the underestimated role of free entrepreneurship and agency in Early Modern economies and societies.

Learning objectives

The student can:

    1. carry out a common assignment
    1. reflect on the primary sources on which the scholarly literature is based;
    1. divise and conduct research of limited scope, including
      a. searching, selecting and ordering relevant literature:
      b. organising and using relatively large amounts of information:
      c. an analysis of a scholarly debate:
      d. placing the research within the context of a scholarly debate.
    1. write a problem solving essay and give an oral presentation after the format defined in the Themacolleges, including
      a. using a realistic schedule of work;
      b. formulating a research question and subquestions;
      c. formulating a well-argued conclusion;
      d. giving and receiving feedback;
      e. responding to instructions of the lecturer.
    1. participate in discussions during class.

The student has:

    1. knowledge of the specialization Social and Economic History, more specifically of;
      a. the worldwide interaction of trading networks in the early modern period;
      b. the differences of class, gender, ethnicity and religion in the transfer of people, goods and ideas;
      c. knowledge and insight in the main concepts, the research methods and techniques of this specialisation;
      d. knowledge and insight in the historiography and theory of Early Modern Economic and Social history.
    1. knowledge of and is able to discuss the theoretical premises of New Institutional Economics applied to the Early Modern world.
    1. knowledge of and is able to discuss the theoretical premises of Social Network Theory.
    1. the ability to apply the principles of Social Network Theory to multi-ethnic, pluri-lingual, cross-religious and multi-gendered business networks worldwide during the Early Modern period.
    1. the ability to determine the relationship and causality between Early Modern Mercantile Business Models and aspects such as religion, distance, and cultural diversity.


See timetable.

Mode of instruction


Course load

Total course load is 10 ec x 28 hours = 280 hours:

  • tutorials 2 hours weekly for 13 weeks = 26 hours;

  • oral presentations (preparation and presentation) = 10 hours;

  • compulsory literature = 70 hours;

  • search literature = 20 hours;

  • study of specific literature for essay = 100 hours;

  • writing essay = 30 hours;

  • feedback session to fellow students = 24 hours.

Assessment method

  • Essay (6000 words, including notes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1, 2, 3a-d, 4a-e, 7-10

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 2, 3a-d, 4a-d, 7-10

  • Assignment (feedback to fellow students)
    Measured learning objectives: 4d-e, 5, 6-10

Essay: 70%
Oral presentation: 15%
Assignment (feedback to fellow students): 15 %

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average combined with the additional requirement that the essay has to be sufficient.

Students have the chance to revise papers that have been deemed unsatisfactory (marks bellow 6) within two weeks after tutor’s feedback, in a date to be discussed between student and tutor.
Mid-term assignments and oral presentations can only be retaken in exceptional circumstances.


There will be no use of Blackboard in this course.

Reading list

  • Xabier Lamikiz, Trade and Trust in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World: Spanish Merchants and their Overseas Networks, Woodbridge: Royal Historical Society/Boydell Press, 2010 (paperback edition 2013);

  • Daviken Studnicki-Gizbert, A Nation upon the Ocean Sea, New York: Oxford University Press, 2007);

  • specific literature pertaining each session will be provided in the introductory session.


Via uSis.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


The compulsory literature should be read by session 2 of the course.


Mw. Dr. C.A.P. (Cátia) Antunes