Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations


Work and labour relations deeply influence how we live. The International Institute of Social History (IISH) examines how these relations develop globally over time. To conduct this historical research and support other researchers, we collect archives and data from all over the world. Established in 1935, the IISH is one of the world's leading research institutes on social history.

More about the IISH

The International Institute of Social History addresses the history of work and labour relations. Labour relations largely determine the circumstances in which much of the world population lives. They are also an important factor in the rise and existence of inequality all over the world.

In the Global Labour History research programme the IISH examines how different types of labour relations (e.g. slavery, serfdom, free wage labour and self employment) have alternated all over the world in the period 1500-2000. Aspects such as demographic and economic growth, collective action of employees and employers alike, and survival strategies of households come into play and are therefore research subjects. The global scope and extended time frame are conducive to improving our understanding of current labour relations and to envisage the course they will take. Global Labour History has become renowned among social historians all over the world.

To facilitate this research – as well as that of others – the Institute has been collecting historical archive material for about eighty years: archives, printed matter, audiovisual materials, and data. These materials are not stored in government archives. The collection now spans about 50 km of shelf space and is one of the most important social history collections in the world. In the Netherlands the IISH is among the largest libraries, archives, and audiovisual institutions. Although the collection is intended for research purposes, it has a strong heritage value as well. After all, the documents are often unique and immensely important for nineteenth and twentieth-century world history. The sole remaining handwritten page from the Communist Manifesto (1848) by Karl Marx and the first draft of Das Kapital, Volume I (1867), for example, have been added to the prestigious UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

Collection development at the IISH focuses increasingly on digital archives and data. In social-economic history, the Institute has become one of the world’s greatest data centres as well, devising new techniques for enabling methodologically innovative research.

The IISH was founded in 1935. Since 1980 it has been an institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). The collections, some of which concern politically sensitive materials, are the property of or have been issued on standing loan to the independent Stichting IISH. The IISH  has approximately 100 staff members.

More about the history of the Institute