Between local debts and global markets: Explaining slavery in South and Southeast Asia, 1600-1800


Most of today's 35.8 million slaves live in Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, China and Indonesia. This is not without a history. Recent scholarship has noted that the long-distance slave trade in the Indian Ocean and Indonesian archipelago in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was almost as extensive as its Atlantic counterpart. This indicates that the system of market slavery was more important than previously supposed and challenges dominant perspectives that portray slavery in Asia as a local phenomenon based mainly on debt bondage and slaves as status objects (Reid 1983; Campbell 2012). Drawing on suggestions that slavery in Asia should be seen as a dynamic part of a global economic system (Mann 2012), this project shows how slavery functioned as an economic system at least in and around the VOC empire in South and Southeast Asia.

This project sheds new light on the history of slavery in Asia by studying debt and market systems of slavery as interconnected systems of economic production. It aims to explain the development of forms of slavery in South and Southeast Asia from 1600 to 1800 and thus uncover the early roots of (modern) slavery. The case of the VOC is crucial as it controlled significant territories. This research will: a) reconstruct and analyse the slave labour force needed to produce key products in South and Southeast Asia; b) reconstruct and analyse the slave trade to VOC territories and VOC-related production areas; c) and analyse and compare the functioning of slavery as an economic system in urban and rural working environments in three VOC settlements having key positions in South and Southeast Asia: Cochin (India), Galle (Ceylon) and Batavia (Java). The results will be presented to academic audiences (English monograph; academic symposium) and the broader public (museum and educational seminar; information pack).


Boek of monografie

  • M van Rossum, J.M. Kamp(2016): Desertion in the Early Modern World: A Comparative History , London
  • M Rediker, M van Rossum, T Chakraborty(2019): A Global History of Runaways: Workers, Mobility, and Capitalism 1600-1850

Hoofdstuk in boek

  • M van Rossum, S Damir-Geilsdorf(2016): Bonded Labour, Global and Comparative Perspectives (18th-21st Century) pp. 83 - 102
  • K Fatah-Black, C Antunes, M van Rossum(2016): Explorations in History and Globalization pp. 47 - 62
  • K Hofmeester, M van der Linden, M van Rossum(2017): Handbook Global History of Work pp. 515 - 530
  • P Brandon, M van Rossum(2018): Navigating History: Economy, Society, Science and Nature. Essays in honor of Prof. Dr. C.A. Davids pp. 201 - 227 , Leiden
  • T Chakraborty, M Rediker, M van Rossum, M van Rossum(2019): pp. 135 - 155

Wetenschappelijk artikel


  • A Geelen, B van den Hout, M Tosun, G Mühlberger, M van Rossum(2017): VOCM2 Transkribus HTR Model
  • PAMJ van Rooij, M van Rossum(2018): Geschiedenis van slavernij in Azië onder de VOC (lespakket)
  • M de Windt, M van Rossum(2018): References to Slave Trade in VOC Digital Sources, 1600-1800
  • M Tosun, A Geelen, B van den Hout, M van Rossum(2018): VOC Court Records Cochin, 1681-1792
  • B van den Hout, A Geelen, M Tosun, M van Rossum(2018): Slave Transactions (Acten van Transport) - VOC Cochin, 1706-1801
  • M Tosun, M van Rossum, B van den Hout, A Geelen(2018): Slave Transport Permissions - VOC Cochin, 1770-1795





Dr. M. van Rossum

Verbonden aan

Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis


N.B. Niet Bekend en Niet Gebruiken, Dr. M. van Rossum


01/01/2016 tot 17/07/2019