Bringing the history of early globalisation and colonialism at the fingertips of researchers and the wider public.


Consisting of approximately twenty-five million pages, the UNESCO Memory of the World-listed archives of the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, VOC) offer a unique view on interactions between European and non-European actors in Asia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Currently, however, doing research on this vast collection of handwritten documents is extremely challenging.

The GLOBALISE project of the Huygens Institute and four partners will change this. Over the period 2021-2026, and in close collaboration with scholars from all over the world, we will develop an online infrastructure that unlocks the key series of VOC documents and reports for advanced new research methods. At the same time, the infrastructure will engage the wider public with this many-sided and increasingly hotly-debated period of Dutch overseas history.

In this 3-minute video we introduce our project and explain the possible uses of the GLOBALISE infrastructure by scholars, heritage institutions and the wider public interested in the history of early globalisation and colonialism.

GLOBALISE introduction video (click to view on YouTube)
Video credits: Studio Bertels


Upcoming events

GLOBALISE seminar: Writing Global Histories with the VOC Archives


What kind of information do the VOC archives contain, how do we use them to write histories and what difficulties do we face in the process?

During this seminar, we will look at the VOC archives from a researcher's point of view in light of different projects.

With presentations by:

  • Hanna te Velde (Researcher | VU Amsterdam)
    "Women and their strategies for socio-economic mobility in VOC and WIC settlements"
  • Maarten Manse (Researcher | VU Amsterdam)
    "The VOC archives as a lens on early modern globalisation"
  • Manjusha Kuruppath (Researcher | GLOBALISE)
    "From VOC archives to datasets and back"

Date: Monday, 26 September 2022
Time: 15:00 – 16:30 CEST
Location: Spinhuis room 2.18* & Zoom
*Huygens Institute: Oudezijds Achterburgwal 185, 1012 DK Amsterdam

Click here to register for this seminar.


Follow us on Twitter (@_GLOBALISE) to stay up to date on the GLOBALISE project.

Latest blog posts

  • Rediscovering Early Modern Polities: First Thoughts on Dataset Creation
    You have been pouring over the archives for weeks together in search of precious information on your research subject. Just when you thought you had laid your hands on the document that would answer your research question (forgive the slight exaggeration here), you hit upon the name of a place or person that you know nothing […]
  • Looking back on a successful kickoff meeting
    On 11 May 2022, the International Institute of Social History hosted the GLOBALISE kickoff for those associated with the project as board and steering committee members and interested researchers and developers working on similar topics. An international group of more than sixty scholars, developers and heritage specialists attended, both on location and online. The kickoff […]

Job openings

There are currently no job openings at the GLOBALISE project. Check this page, our Twitter or Academic Transfer for future job openings.

The source

GLOBALISE unlocks the so-called ‘Overgekomen Brieven en Papieren’ (‘Letters and papers received’, OBP), the key series of VOC documents and reports that were sent over from the company’s Asian headquarters in Batavia (now Jakarta in Indonesia) to the Dutch Republic in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This series of more than 5 million handwritten pages is of crucial importance to our understanding of the history of the world. It provides detailed and structured overviews of historical events and social, political, and economic developments occurring in the vast region where the VOC was active.

This region stretched from modern-day Jemen to Japan, encompassing the Indonesian archipelago, Sri Lanka, the coasts of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar, the island of Taiwan, and various Chinese cities. The documents also provide information on Madagascar, scattered regions on the east coast of Africa, and the area around Cape Town. Covering almost the entire seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the OBP form the most complete and extensive body of sources on early modern world history. For some regions, the documents in this archival series are among the earliest written historical sources.

A page from the so-called ‘General Letters’, a collection of summarising reports within the OBP.
Photo Dave Straatmeyer

The documents and reports provide information on a wide range of subjects. Trade features most prominently. On the first picture below (click images for large versions), Dutch vessels are visible on the river Ganges at Hugli, just north of Kolkata. But there is much more going on in this picture. On the right, a local official set up camp, probably to negotiate with representatives of the VOC. This is also reported on in the OBP, as are the local plants and animals, and the religious ceremony at the back. Other topics covered by the VOC reports are the vicious wars waged by the company in name of the Dutch Republic, such as the conquest of Macassar on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in 1667, depicted on the second picture below, and the as yet under-researched topic of slavery in Asia (third picture).

The trading post of the Dutch East India Company in Hooghly, Bengal. Painting by Hendrik van Schuylenburgh, 1665. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, license CC0

The trading post of the Dutch East India Company in Hugli, Bengal.
Painting by Hendrik van Schuylenburgh, 1665.
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, license CC0.

The conquest of Macassar in 1667 by Cornelis Speelman. Engraving by Johannes Vingboons. Dutch National Archives, license CC0.

The conquest of Macassar in 1667 by Cornelis Speelman.
Engraving by Johannes Vingboons.
Dutch National Archives, The Hague, license CC0.

A senior merchant of the VOC with his wife and an enslaved servant.
Painting made in circle of Aelbert Cuyp, c.1650-c.1655
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, license CC0.

The importance of the OBP has long been recognised, and much effort has been made to make this source better accessible for researchers. Between 1960 and 2017, the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands and its predecessors published annotated selections of the General Letters, a collection of summarising reports within the OBP (link to online version). Even though the series consists of 14 hefty book volumes, it covers only about one-sixth of the available material. To improve the accessibility of the original documents, the project ‘Towards a New Age of Partnership’ (TANAP) compiled a database with short descriptions of documents in VOC archives held in various places around the world. Also, sections of the OBP have been translated to make them available for non-Dutch researchers. Cheng Shaogang for example translated sections related to the history of Taiwan into Chinese.

Technological advancements now make it possible to go much further in unlocking this source. The National Archives of the Netherlands are in the process of scanning all their VOC material (scans are accessible through the online inventory, the part of the OBP sent to the Amsterdam chamber of the VOC can be found in the inventory number range 1053-4454; documents and reports sent to the Zeeland chamber in the range 7527-11024). In a project called ‘De ijsberg zichtbaar maken’ (2018-2021), c. 1 million pages of handwritten VOC material were automatically transcribed. The transcriptions are available for browsing and searching on this website. The GLOBALISE project takes it from there.

The project

Our team processes the material provided by the National Archives so as to allow for advanced querying, and thus facilitate large-scale, in-depth and structured analyses of interactions between European and above all non-European actors in and around the VOC empire.

In the short (Dutch-language) video below, project leader Matthias van Rossum explains how we do this and discusses the impact on research with Cátia Antunes, Professor of History of Global Economic Networks at Leiden University.

Interview with Matthias van Rossum and Cátia Antunes on GLOBALISE (in Dutch; click to view on YouTube)
Video credits: Notion Film & Animation

We apply an innovative combination of semantic and historical contextualisation methods on the automatically generated transcriptions of the handwritten original documents and reports in the OBP. Our teams recognise and identify entities (such as places, persons and commodities) and events in the text, and link these to a comprehensive collection of historical reference data related to VOC history—accurate historical contextual information, compiled from a broad variety of European and Asian sources. For this, we highly welcome relevant data collections of students and scholars around the world. Moreover, using state-of-the-art natural language processing (nlp) technology, we place the entities, events, and their interrelations in a knowledge graph, structured by an ontology. Hence comes the full name of the project: General Letters Ontology-Based AccessibiLity InfraStructurE (acronym GLOBALISE).

This will lead to a breakthrough in research practices. Currently, a researcher who wants to know how many slaves were transported by the VOC from Madagascar to VOC settlements in Asia would generally perform simple search queries in the edited volumes of the General Letters or the transcribed sections of the VOC archive, using search strings such as ‘slaaf*’, ‘slave*’, ‘leyfeygen*’, ‘lijffeygen*’ and ‘l*f*ge*’ to find mentions of enslaved people. This yields multiple series of single references to slavery, including slave trading or transportation, but also references to slave-based production, control over the enslaved, slave uprisings, etc. After close reading the references, the researcher selects the ones that are relevant for further, manual processing. With the GLOBALISE infrastructure, a future researcher can build a query to specifically retrieve observations on transportations of enslaved people from Madagascar, with their respective destinations. These results are ready to be processed using quantitative and qualitative research methods.

Impression of a map view with a timeline filter showing results of a search query.

The GLOBALISE infrastructure will allow researchers to answer new and more complex research questions. For example, with regard to the seventeenth-century sugar boom in Taiwan, it is known that the establishment of this industry was related to the settlement of Chinese planters and migrants. At the same time, much less is known about the sugar industry itself, such as the labour relations on the plantations. VOC officials for example reported the need for slave labour. Would it be possible that both Chinese migrants and enslaved workers from other parts of Asia were employed in the sugar industry? With the opportunities the GLOBALISE infrastructure provides to query observations on the development of sugar production, Chinese migration and slave imports, researchers will be able to analyse their possible relations in depth. The results of these scholarly endeavours will have important implications for debates on plantation societies and slave labour regimes, and on the impact and legacy of colonialism.

Users from around the world can interact with the GLOBALISE infrastructure through an easy-to-use interface.

We also aim to engage the wider public to explore the rich collection of documents and reports in the OBP and learn about the history of early globalisation and colonialism. Users from around the world will be able to explore the source material through an easy-to-use interface. We also actively appeal to the public to help us improve our infrastructure. Citizen scientists can correct transcription errors and wrongly identified entities, supplement the available contextual information, and add extra layers of interpretation. Learn more about how you can contribute to the project on this page.

The GLOBALISE infrastructure is not reserved for the Dutch East India Company’s view of the world. It will be open to additional source material, such as documents of Asian rulers and polities.

Our team

Project management & user interaction

Matthias van Rossum, project leader GLOBALISE

Matthias van Rossum

Project leader
International Institute for Social History
Contact page

Lodewijk Petram, project manager GLOBALISE (photo Fjodor Buis)

Lodewijk Petram

Project manager
Huygens Institute
Contact page

Merve Tosun

Coordinator user interaction and outreach
International Institute for Social History

Technical infrastructure

Arno Bosse

Arno Bosse

Team lead
KNAW Humanities Cluster, Digital infrastructure

Rutger van Koert

Developer – Handwritten text recognition
KNAW Humanities Cluster, Digital infrastructure

Martijn Maas

Developer – Handwritten text recognition
KNAW Humanities Cluster, Digital infrastructure

Hennie Brugman

Developer – Text infrastructure
KNAW Humanities Cluster, Digital infrastructure

Hayco de Jong

Developer – Text infrastructure
KNAW Humanities Cluster, Digital infrastructure

Historical contextualisation

Manjusha Kuruppath

Team lead
Huygens Institute
Contact page

Brecht Nijman

Junior researcher
Huygens Institute

Kay Pepping

Junior researcher
Huygens Institute

Sterre Berentzen

Research assistant
Huygens Institute

Maartje Hids

Research assistant
Huygens Institute

Henrike Vellinga

Research assistant
Huygens Institute

Semantic contextualisation

Picture of Leon van Wissen

Leon van Wissen

Team lead
University of Amsterdam
Contact page

Sophie Arnoult

Postdoc - Natural language processing
VU University

Piek Vossen

Professor - Computational linguistics
VU University

Sam Titarsolej

Developer - Natural language processing
VU University

Stella Verkijk

Developer - Natural language processing
VU University

Former team members

Gerhard de Kok
Postdoc, Semantic contextualisation (February – August 2022)

Guest researchers

Gerhard de Kok

Leiden University / Huygens Institute

Steering committee

Matthias van Rossum
International Institute for Social History, NL

Cátia Antunes
Leiden University, NL
Sebastiaan Derks
Huygens Institute, NL
Dirk van Miert
Huygens Institute, NL
Menno Rasch
KNAW Humanities Cluster, NL
Piek Vossen
VU University Amsterdam, NL

Advisory board

Victor de Boer
VU University Amsterdam, NL
Ulbe Bosma
International Institute for Social History, NL
Pepijn Brandon
VU University Amsterdam, NL
International Institute for Social History, NL
Titas Chakraborty
Duke Kunshan University, China
Katrien Depuydt
Dutch Language Institute, NL
Afelonne Doek
Dutch National Archives, NL
Jesse de Does
Dutch Language Institute, NL
Marieke van Erp
KNAW Digital Humanities lab, NL
Johan Fourie
Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Ewout Frankema
Wageningen University & Research, NL
Oscar Gelderblom
Antwerp University, Belgium
Robert Goené
Waag | technology & society, NL
Jos Gommans
Leiden University, NL
Michiel van Groesen
Leiden University, NL
Hans Hägerdal
Linnaeus University, Sweden
Lex Heerma van Voss
International Institute for Social History, NL

Elisabeth Heijmans
Antwerp University, Belgium
Els Jacobs
Rotterdam Centre for Modern Maritime History of Erasmus University and Maritime Museum Rotterdam, NL
Bondan Kanumoyoso
Universitas Indonesia, Indonesia
Geert Janssen
University of Amsterdam, NL
Wim Manuhutu
VU University Amsterdam, NL
Sri Margana
Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia
Anne McCants
Chris Nierstrasz
Erasmus University Rotterdam, NL
Filipa Ribeiro da Silva
International Institute for Social History, NL
Alicia Schrikker
Leiden University, NL
Rombert Stapel
International Institute for Social History, NL
Jeroen van der Vliet
National Maritime Museum, NL
Jan de Vries
UC Berkeley, USA
Andreas Weber
University of Twente, NL
Nira Wickramasinghe
Leiden University, NL
Jan Luiten van Zanden
Utrecht University, NL


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