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

PhD with Distinction

In his thesis Globalization and the Colonial Origins of the Great Divergence, which IISH –UU PhD student Pim de Zwart defended on April 17th, he examines global trade and its effects on global income distribution in the early modern period. These effects prove to be less univocal than previously thought.

De  Zwart shows us, based on data collected from VOC archives, that the integration of commodity markets already began in the seventeenth century instead of the nineteenth century, in contrast to the opinion of many historians.

De Zwart also finds that, from a very early stage onwards, the VOC was able to both frustrate and stimulate the international integration of the commodity markets. Prices of commodities -an important indicator of market integration- were not only set by supply and demand, but also by long term contracts and the VOC’s complete control over international production and trade.

De Zwart researched how early modern market integration influenced global living standards. His research was based on data from four different VOC colonies  (Bengal, Ceylon, Java and the Cape Colony). De Zwart compared their living standards to those in England and the Republic, but also with other regions in Asia and lagging parts of Europe.


He argues that globalization not only led to a difference in living standards between the four colonies and other studied areas (on average the standard was lower in the colonies), but that the standard of living between populations within individual colonies also became more and more divergent. While some groups benefited from increased global demand for their products, other groups suffered from increased colonial labour coercion.

Thus within the colonies too, globalization could lead to commercialization and economic growth. On the other hand this growth could be offset by the impact of colonialism and exploitation.

De Zwart passed his Phd with distinction.

In short, globalization and related colonialism played an important,  yet heterogeneous  role in the development of global economic inequality, also known as the Great Divergence. In order to achieve a better understanding, new data, as investigated in this thesis, is crucial and new connections can be discovered.

Thesis: Globalization and the Colonial Origins of the Great Divergence: Intercontinental Trade and Living Standards in the Dutch East India Company’s Commercial Empire, c. 1600-1800.

Supervisors: Prof. dr. Jan Luiten van Zanden en Prof. dr. Lex Heerma van Voss

Co-supervisor: Dr. Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk

Posted: 
15 April 2015