nl en

The power of multinationals, 1945-2015


Admission requirements

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


Globalization increased the power of the multinational corporation. Here, we distinguish two periods. During the first period, between 1945 and 1980, in many countries measures were taken to safeguard the interest of workers, consumers and society at large. For example, in European countries, various welfare state laws and labour market institutions curbed the power of the multinational. Likewise, the American New Deal was a combination of ideas, policies, institutions, and cultural norms (sometimes called the New Deal Order) that restricted the private sector. During the second period, after the neo-classical revolution of the 1980s, the balance tipped and shareholder value started to outweigh stakeholder interests. The degree to which multinationals were given more leeway differs per country, but globalization allowed multinationals to increase their influence and circumvent (or successfully lobby against) regulations.

Societies appreciate private corporations as the engine of economic growth, but they also aspire to limit the power of private enterprise. 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 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 corporate power by combining economic aspects (such as firm size, international rade and FDI) and social aspects (the influence of NGO’s, social pacts, strikes, and wage-bargaining). The institutional differences between countries are part of this story.

During the first session there will be an entry test, for with the literature will be distributed beforehand.

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

  • 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) obtains knowledge about the historical development of the antagonism between capital and labour.

  • 14) obtains insight into the effects of government policy, social action, and forms of non-market coordination in the private sector.

  • 15) explores the recent academic literature and available statistical sources on the theme.

  • 16) 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.


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Entry test: 4 hours

  • Lectures: 28 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 56 hours

  • Two presentations: 16 hours

  • Term paper: 176 hours

Assessment method

  • 1) Entry exam: Written examination with essay questions

  • 2) Participation in class discussions

  • 3) Two class presentations.

  • 4) Paper


  • 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, 13-15

  • Entry test
    measured learning objectives:14

  • Oral presentations
    measured learning objectives: 3-7, 13, 15


  • Written paper: 75 %

  • Oral presentations: 15 %

  • Class participation: 10 %

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.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Blackboard or by e-mail to the instructor.


Resit: improved term paper and if necessary additional written assignment. Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Exam review

The final version iof the written paper will be discussed individually with each student.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines

  • distribution of drafts to comment on

Reading list

Reading list will be distributed at a later point.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory. General information about uSis is available.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Dr. L.J. Touwen