PhD position: Dutch Firms Exploiting English/British Colonial Resources, 1650-1850

PhD position: Dutch Firms Exploiting English/British Colonial Resources, 1650-1850

Published Deadline Location
7 Apr 31 May Leiden

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Leiden University Institute for History is looking for a candidate for a PhD position: Dutch Firms Exploiting English/British Colonial Resources, 1650-1850

Job description

The overall project, Exploiting the Empire of Others: Dutch Investment in Foreign Colonial Resources, 1570-1800  starts from the idea that Early Modern European empires are portrayed and perceived as nationally geared enterprises, as entangled spaces at the peripheries and as zones of contact. In the Netherlands, these perceptions have filtered into the public debate that seeks to define material and immaterial responsibilities for the colonial past. What the historiographical perceptions, academic portrayals and public debate seem, however, to ignore is the role played by foreigners (being non-subjects of a specific king or republic) in exploiting the empires of other countries. This project will establish how and why Dutch entrepreneurs (being those taking risks in matters of trade or production, introducing innovations, making decisions based on information that others did not possess and searching for opportunities where most perceived risk) participated in exploiting the English, French and Iberian empires, as Dutch firms are particularly prominent in the European colonial landscape. Since Dutch entrepreneurs engaged in exploiting the resources of those other countries, what is the future of the public debate in the Netherlands, and Europe at large, regarding a shared responsibility for the colonial past? 

The answer(s) to these questions can be found in the multiple public and private archives that house extensive collections of the firms that operated from the Dutch Republic into the four largest empires in Western Europe. By combining original and recently uncovered archival sources pertaining to the relevant men (and some women), businesses and activities and their relationships with fellow traders, investors and political powers in situ, this project carries the seed to radically change commonly held perceptions regarding Dutch colonial participation and how these perceptions are often filtered into the public debate. This socio-economic entanglement of empires may have resulted in a shared European culture of exploitation that is impossible to disentangle within public debates that remain nationally bound.

By explaining how and why Dutch entrepreneurs participated in exploiting the English, French and Iberian Empires, this project will innovate current scholarship by: 1) introducing the centrality of private firms in obtaining gains in colonial exploitation outside the scope of sovereignty of the States General; 2) challenging the premise that Dutch colonial gains were exclusive to Dutch colonial endeavours and Dutch commercial companies, and consequently questioning the premises of the current public debate regarding Dutch state and societal responsibilities in colonial exploitation; 3) Exploring the exceptional nature of Dutch colonial ventures abroad as a simultaneous engagement in exploiting natural resources, cash crops, labour and tax farming/financial services for periods that extended to over 50 consecutive years of activity; 4) Focusing on cross-colonial exchanges in the main commercial centres of Europe, a phenomenon that resulted in a transnational system of colonial exploitation enduring beyond the postcolonial moment; 5) developing a model of European colonial exploitation that sheds light on the role played by private foreign firms in exploiting colonial resources, regardless of claims of sovereignty, and using as stepping stones the re-conceptualization of: a) transnationality in exploiting the colonies of other countries;  b) Stakeholdership of empire; c) Inter-state diplomatic exchanges as formatted and/or substantially influenced by private colonial exploitation, having as a consequence a European (rather than a particular) definition of overseas political economy.

Key responsibilities

  • Conducting research on  Dutch private firms exploiting the English/British Colonial Resources, 1650-1800, with particular interest for the firm Suasso/Belmonte or specific firms involved in the mortgaging of the English/British plantation complex (negotiaties) (see project description below). The PI is willing to consider other firms when scientifically justified by the applicant in his/her application letter;
  • Writing a PhD thesis in English within four years;
  • Writing at least two (single- or co-authored) articles for publication in peer-reviewed journals;
  • Presenting draft articles or thesis chapters at conferences and workshops;
  • Co-organizing workshops, conferences and events with societal partners;
  • Being a team player (sharing and discussing collective data and actively participating in the societal and educational goals of the project as a whole);
  • Contributing to undergraduate teaching (within the limits of what has been established as best practices within the Institute for History).


Leiden University


  • MA degree in History, preferably with a specialization in Global History or the Economic and Social History of Early Modern Empires;
  • Fluency in English. Good passive command of Dutch and Spanish. If selection falls on Suasso/Belmonte firm, rudimentary knowledge of Portuguese is of added value;
  • Knowledge and fluency in 17th and 18th century paleographic skills for the following languages: Dutch, English (and possibly Spanish and Portuguese if Suasso/Belmonte stands as case study);
  • Demonstrable interest in the history of European colonialism, with methodological and theoretical insights of Global History and a specific interest for the economic and social history of Early Modern empires;
  • Excellent writing skills;
  • Ability to work both independently and as part of an (international) team;
  • Ability to work in an international and highly competitive environment.

Conditions of employment

We offer a full-time position for initially one year. After a positive evaluation of the progress of the thesis, personal capabilities and compatibility the appointment will be extended by a further three years. Salary range from € 2,325.- to € 2,972.- gross per month (pay scale P, in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities).

Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3%), training and career development and sabbatical leave. Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break.  Additional budget allows for research visits abroad and attendance of international conferences. 

Leiden University is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from members of underrepresented groups.


Leiden University

The Faculty of Humanities is rich in expertise in fields such as philosophy, religious studies, history, art history, literature, linguistics, international studies and area studies, covering nearly every region of the world. With its staff of 930, the faculty provides 27 masters and 25 bachelors programmes for over 6,000 students based at locations in Leiden’s  city centre and  in The Hague. For more information see our website.


  • PhD
  • Language and culture
  • University graduate
  • 20-158



Cleveringaplaats 1, 2311 BD, Leiden

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