Journal Articles


Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, Corinne Boter, Katherine Frederick and Sarah Carmichael, "Global Shifts and Local Actors. Revising Macro-Level Theories on the Relocation of Textile Production From the Lens of the Household in the Netherlands and Java, c. 1820-1940.",  BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, Vol. 138 No. 1, pp. 4-30.

The location of major textile manufacturing centers has shifted several times over the past 250 years, from Asia to Europe and the US, then back to Asia. Mainstream explanations for these shifts take a macro-approach and hence oversimplify the mechanisms behind them. We investigate these mechanisms at the micro-level of the household to gain a deeper understanding of the relocations of textile production worldwide. We do so by studying Dutch and Javanese households' productive and consumptive behaviour in the period 1820-1940, when colonial relations between these two regions played an important role. We show that households' labour allocation, livelihood strategies, and consumption preferences are crucial to understand the interaction between global shifts and local actors.


Katherine Frederick and Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, “Local advantage in a global context. Competition, adaptation and resilience in textile manufacturing in the ‘periphery’, 1860–1960”, Journal of Global History, First View, 1-24.

For decades, the link between manufacturing, economic development, and colonialism during the globalizing nineteenth and twentieth centuries has been subject to considerable debate. Dependency-school theorists have long argued that imperial ‘core’ countries stifled domestic handicraft industries in the ‘periphery’ by flooding colonial markets with manufactures from the metropole and coercing colonized people to produce raw materials.1 Meanwhile, many neoclassical economists have contended that industrial development was inherently handicapped in much of the ‘Global South’ by endogenous factors, including purported ‘backwardness’ in non-Western societies, a lack of dynamism of indigenous elites, and/or geographic conditions that predisposed the south to focus on primary production, in lieu of manufacturing, to meet rising demand for raw materials in the ‘Global North’.2 Although belonging to different ideological camps, both schools share certain key perspectives: first, that the ‘Western’ model of modernization was the road to development; second, that handicraft industries in the Global South were unable to withstand competition from machine-made imports; and third, that the ability of colonized regions to achieve economic growth was determined by demand and/or policies from the Global North, thus discounting indigenous economic agency. Crucially, however, the responses of local actors to both colonial policies and broader global economic forces could produce more complex outcomes than these outlooks allow.

Aditi Dixit and Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, "Supply of labour during early industrialisation: Agricultural systems, textile factory work and gender in Japan and India, ca. 1880 - 1940", The Indian Economic & Social History Review, Volume 59 Issue 2.

This article explores the reasons behind the marked differences in the gender division of labour in the emerging textile factories in Japan and India in the first half of the twentieth century. In Japan, the overwhelming majority of the workers in spinning mills were young, unmarried women, while in India men—married as well as unmarried—formed the bulk of the factory textile workforce. We argue that variations in agrarian systems and labour regimes constitute an important set of factors explaining some of these differences in gender patterns. The structural differences in the productivity, intensity and the social organisation of labour in agricultural economies in both countries led to notable variances in the gender composition of the supply of (rural) labour for the factories. Differential deployment of rural farm and non-farm labour, in combination with distinct labour recruitment practices in the countryside, caused rural households to adopt radically different income-generating strategies.


Boter, C., "The Emergence of the Dutch Housewife Revised. How Shifts in Local Labour Market Structures Shaped Dutch Unmarried Women’s Labour Force Participation, 1812-1929", Historical Life Course Studies, 10 (March), 130-134.

Most studies on the long-term development of female labour force participation argue that social norms and rising wages were key drivers. However, the majority of these conclusions apply to married women. Instead, this study zooms in on unmarried women. Based on nearly 2 million marriage records that have been digitalised by Kees Mandemaker's LINKS project, it shows that there were large regional differences in the levels of labour force participation that were closely connected to local job opportunities. This research concludes that even though social norms and income levels were indeed important, local sectoral employment shares were the key driver of Dutch unmarried women's work during the long-19th century.


Boter, C.A., "Living standards and the life-cycle: reconstructing household income and consumption in the early twentieth-century Netherlands", The Economic History Review 73:4 (2020), 1-24.

Conventional methods of measuring historical household living standards are often criticized because of the omission of women's and children's wages and non-wage income; the focus on urban centres; and the exclusion of life-cycle changes in household composition, income and consumption. This article presents a method that accounts for these issues and applies it to agricultural and textile households in the early-twentieth century Netherlands. It uses total household income, as opposed to the husband's wage, as the enumerator for calculating alternative welfare ratios. The results show that welfare ratios were not only structurally higher than those based on the male-breadwinner model, but also followed a different life-cycle trajectory. Furthermore, household portfolios were diversified and depended on local labour market structures. Thus, the study concludes that analyses based on men's wages only reflect the rough outlines of how households functioned.

Boter, C.A. and Woltjer, P., "The impact of sectoral shifts on Dutch unmarried women’s labor force participation, 1812-1929", European Review of Economic History, 0:0, 1-35.

During the nineteenth century, Dutch female labor force participation (FLFP) was relatively low. Most scholars argue that social norms and rising wages were driving this development. However, their conclusions principally apply to married women. We study unmarried women’s LFP (UFLFP) and investigate a third driver: shifting sectoral employment shares. We include all three drivers in a logistic regression based on nearly 2 million marriage records from 1812 to 1929. We conclude that social norms and income levels mattered, but that shifting sectoral employment shares were driving the decline in UFLFP because sectors with low demand for female laborers expanded.

Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, "Reversal of fortune or continued misery? Ulbe Bosma's Making of a Periphery reviewed", International Review of Social History 65:3, 495-505.

With his latest book, The Making of a Periphery, Ulbe Bosma makes a successful attempt to “decompress history”. Apart from praising his work, I want to offer two critical comments and a suggestion for global comparison. First, I argue that the role of colonialism/imperialism is somewhat downplayed in the book. Second, although I am impressed by the vast body of literature cited, I believe that at several instances the book might have benefited from its arguments being underpinned by more solid empirical quantitative data. Finally, I raise the question how unique the “plantation economies” of Island South East Asia actually were, which also implies a suggestion for further research along the lines of Bosma's impressive monograph.

Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, "Van regionaal naar globaal. Wat kunnen we leren van internationaal vergelijkend historisch onderzoek naar arbeid en gender?", The Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History 17 (1): 77-96

This article aims to bring together three different long-term, global comparative studies on women’s work in three sectors: the textile industry, domestic service and sex work from the seventeenth century to today. Although there were notable differences between developments in these three occupations over time, it is clear that they all represent the ubiquitous precarity that runs through the history of work. Instead of viewing precarious labour as a novel development, history shows that the ILO model of ‘standard employment’ is an exception in history. Both in the Global North and in the Global South, at least half of the world’s historical population – women – often worked in underpaid, poorly organized jobs, under unequal power relations. However, despite these consistent practices of subordination, this article also highlights that within the given constrictions, female labourers who were formally powerless could exert considerable agency, using informal networks and power mechanisms that often emerged from the inherent intimacy of the labour relations they were involved in.

Kirsten Kamphuis and Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, "Education, Labour and Discipline: New Perspectives on Imperial Practices and Indigenous Children in Colonial Asia", International Review of Social History 65:1, 1-14.

This article provides an introduction to the two articles in this Special Theme on education, labour, and discipline in colonial Asia. It offers a brief historiography of education to indigenous children in the colonial context provided by non-state as well as state actors. We argue that while many studies have separated the motives behind, and actions of, these different actors in relation to education and “civilizing missions”, it is worthwhile connecting these histories. Moreover, apart from looking at motives, the articles in this Special Theme aim to show the value of studying educational practices in a colonial context. Finally, this introduction identifies several opportunities for future – comparative as well as transnational – studies into the topic of education, child labour, and discipline.


Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, ‘Big questions and big data. The role of labour in recent global economic history’, International Review of Social History 62:1, 95-121.

This article argues that global labour history (GLH) and global economic history have much to offer each other. GLH would do well to raise sweeping questions – for instance about the origins of global inequality – engage more with theory, and increasingly use quantitative methods. Instead of seeing labour and labour relations as historical phenomena to be explained, they can serve as important explanatory variables in historical analyses of economic development and divergence. In turn, economic historians have much to gain from the recent insights of global labour historians. GLH offers a more inclusive and variable usage of the concept of labour, abandoning, as it does, the often narrow focus on male wage labour in the analyses of many economic historians. Moreover, GLH helps to overcome thinking in binary categories, such as “free” and “unfree” labour. Ultimately, both fields will benefit from engaging in joint debates and theories, and from collaboration in collecting and analysing “big data”.

Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, ‘Challenging the de-industrialization thesis. Gender and indigenous textile production in Java under Dutch colonial rule, ca. 1830-1940’, The Economic History Review volume 70, issue 4, pp. 1-29.

Many dependency theorists as well as economic historians have contended that nineteenth‐century imperial policies and economic globalization de‐industrialized the global ‘periphery’. European metropoles extracted raw materials and tropical commodities from their overseas territories, and in turn indigenous consumers bought their industrial products, textiles in particular. This article investigates three of the assumptions of Ricardian trade theory that are often behind the de‐industrialization narrative. In this article it is argued that, at least for colonial Java's textile industry, these assumptions should be reconsidered. Adverse trade policies imposed by the Dutch and a prolonged terms‐of‐trade boom in favour of primary commodities make colonial Java a unique case for exploring the merits of the de‐industrialization thesis. Here it is demonstrated that Javanese households resourcefully responded to changing market circumstances, in the first place by flexible allocation of female labour. Moreover, indigenous textile producers specialized in certain niches that catered for local demand. Because of these factors, local textile production in Java appears to have been much more resilient than most of the historical literature suggests. These findings not only shed new light on the social and economic history of colonial Indonesia, but also contribute to the recent literature on alternative, labour‐intensive paths of industrialization in the non‐western world.