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

Winner Volkskrant-IISH Thesis Award 2012

The Volkskrant-IISH Thesis Award 2012 has been awarded to Floris Keehnen for his thesis Trinkets (f)or Treasure? The role of European material culture in intercultural contacts in Hispaniola during early colonial times.

It is often supposed that in early colonial times the Spaniards offered beads and mirrors to ‘ignorant Indians’, in exchange of which they received great quantities of valuable gold. Keehnen shows in his thesis that this approach does not do justice to the indigenous population and culture of Hispaniola, present-day San Domingo.
On the basis of archaeological excavations, theories from archaeology, anthropology, and global history, the author describes the encounter between the two radically different cultures. The thesis shows how different value systems determined the differences in appraising the goods exchanged. For instance, he made it clear that Columbus and his men were not only driven by greed and blind zeal, but also by their experiences in the conquest and colonization of the Canary Islands in the decades before.

The indigenous population had gold, but valued it differently than the Europeans. The glittering of the objects that the Europeans brought with them offered the indigenous population a magical and supra-natural way to capture the cosmos. The indigenous population therefore actively exchanged goods and services with the strangers from overseas.

Read more on (in Dutch) Magie van Spiegeltjes en Kraaltjes

Article (in Dutch) about the winning thesis of Floris Keehnen in de Volkskrant

According to the jury the merit of this MA thesis is taking both sides serious. It is real global history in the modern sense. This calls for a renewing and interdisciplinary approach and the author did make the most of it. Besides, the jury thought his thesis to be well written and beautifully edited.

Floris Keehnen studied Caribbean Archaeology at the University of Leiden. His Leiden University supervisor was Prof. Dr Corinne Hofman.

The jury

  • Prof. dr Ruth Oldenziel (chair), Technical Eindhoven University of Technology
  • Michiel van der Geest,  de Volkskrant
  • Peter Giesen, de Volkskrant
  • Prof. dr Jan Lucassen,  International Institute of Social History
  • Prof. dr Karin Hofmeester, International Institute of Social History
  • Drs Aad Blok, International Institute of Social History

The prize

The IISH and Dutch Newspaper de Volkskrant created an annual prize for the best master thesis written at a Dutch university, in the field of national or international history. The winner will be awarded a prize of € 1500. More about the prize and past years' winners. See also the shortlist for 2012.

For more information please contact: Aukje Lettinga (

7 December 2012