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Containing Corporate Power


Admission requirements

This course is offered to students of Economic History in the specialization Cities, Migration and Global Interdependence in the MA programme History. It is also open as optional course to students in the MA History in other specializations.


In the capitalist market system, the firm forms the engine of economic growth. Entrepreneurs apply technology, invest in capital, and hire workers in order to produce goods or services and make a profit. Their payments of salaries, interest, and rent make the economic cycle turn and propel the economy forward.
Societies appreciate this, but also aspire to limit the power of private enterprise. In the course of the twentieth century the power of the corporate sector has been restricted by government laws, union pressure & social action, and institutionalized wage bargaining. Interest organizations such as NGO’s and consumer platforms also put pressure on firms. The largest actor is the state, which intends to restrict the influence of the private sector in the public interest. In this course we examine the power of the firm and the ways in which stakeholders managed to organize countervailing powers. We observe a departure from laissez faire in the late nineteenth century, successful efforts to bridle the corporation in the mid-twentieth century, and a new increase in the power of corporations (and their shareholders) after the 1980s.
We will study various aspects of corporate power and combine insights from the literature with statistical information on themes such as firm size, social pacts, strikes, wage-bargaining, neo-corporatism, welfare state expenditure, active labour market policies, etc.

Course objectives

General learning objectives
The student has acquired:

    1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
    1. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
    1. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
    1. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
    1. 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;
    1. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
    1. 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;
    1. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
    1. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

    1. 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.
    1. 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:

    1. obtains knowledge about the historical development of labour relations and the antagonism between capital and labour.
    1. obtains insight into the effects of government policy, social action, and foprms of non-market coordination in the private sector
    1. explores the recent academic literature and available statistical sources on the theme
    1. (ResMA only) – ResMA students will do more background reading and formulate research questions of a higher higher complexity or that are inspired by a more theoretically-based curiosity about methods and concepts. Additional learning objectives apply to Research Master students as follows:
      a.The ability to interpret a potentially complex corpus of sources;
      b.The ability to identify new approaches within existing academic debates;
      c.Knowledge of the interdisciplinary aspects of the specialization.


See Timetable and deadlines History

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hrs = 280 hours

  • Class attendance: 28 hours.

  • General literature study: 56 hours.

  • Presentations: 16 hours.

  • Term paper: 180 hours.

Assessment method


  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 10-11, 13-14, (ResMa also: 15)

  • Oral presentation 1:
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 10, 12, 13

  • Oral presentation 2:
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 14

  • Class participation
    Measured learning objectives: 4, 8, 10-11 (ResMa also: 9)

Final assessment is based on the following components:

  • Active participation in the course, including attendance, discussion, at least 2 presentations, including one concerning the individual topic of research.

  • A final paper of 7500 words demonstrating the following skills:

    • Ability to independently identify and select literature
    • Ability to give a clear written report on the research results in English or Dutch
    • Ability to engage with constructive academic feedback.

Written paper: 67 %
Class participiation including oral presentations: 33 %

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.

Written papers should be handed in within the given deadline.

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



Reading list

  • Selected readings from recent literature will be announced at the first meeting.


Via uSis

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


dhr. Dr. L.J. Touwen