Amsterdam in Global Capitalism: 1500-present

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Capitalism from its origins operated on a global scale, but it has also always produced dynamic centres of wealth and power. From 1600 onwards, for a long time Amsterdam was at the heart of this process. Today, Amsterdam still is a major player in the capitalist world. This course explores your host city’s role in the rise of capitalism and the relationship – then and now – between its economic fortunes and its spatial, social and cultural development.

Session 2
20 July to 31 July 2020
Course levelAdvanced Bachelor/Master, open to PhD staff and professionals
Co-ordinating lecturers                
Dr. Pepijn Brandon
Other lecturersProf. dr. Ulbe Bosma, Dr. Sabine Go, Prof. dr. Marjolein 't Hart, Dr. Paul Mepschen
Forms of tuitionInteractive seminars, lectures, excursions
Forms of assessmentPresentation, short paper
Credits3 ECTS
Contact hours45 hours
Tuition fee€500, read more about what's included

How to apply
Find our application form here
Primarily students and professionals in the field of Humanities and Social Sciences, but interested participants from other backgrounds are also welcome. If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please let us know. Our courses are multi-disciplinary and therefore are open to students and professionals with a wide variety of backgrounds.
The framework of this course is the new scholarship on capitalism, that investigates the global, often violent dimensions of capitalist development, and looks at the role of “global cities” as key hubs within this. Since the development of capitalism is now considered part of a wider web of social relations, power structures, ecological processes, belief systems and cultural practices, we cover several centuries and many aspects of history: social, economic, business, political, cultural and environmental history as well as the history of war and slavery.

As a long-established centre of capitalism, Amsterdam is the perfect place to study this innovative approach in situ, and to look in greater depth at the relationship between the development of capitalism and the urban environment. We will address questions such as how the ups and downs of Amsterdam as a hotbed of capitalism affected the spatial, social and cultural development of the city and how the urban ambience influenced the role of Amsterdam in the capitalist world, especially in terms of city planning, social inequality, flows of migration and flows of finance. In doing so, we will engage with ongoing discussions among historians, social scientists and policy makers about the changing functions of “global cities”.

Active participation is an important aspect of this course, as you examine and critically assess key ideas, debates and methodologies in the field. Excursions to heritage sites related to Amsterdam’s history as the “heart of capitalism” will help you to place the subject in a historical and present-day context.

At the end of this course you will:

  • Be able to understand the long-term history of capitalism.
  • Understand the relationship between large-scale economic changes and the social hierarchy, social tensions, creativity, consumer culture and spatial order in global cities. 
  • Be familiar with theoretical concepts and methodologies for the study of capitalism and urban developments.
  • Be familiar with the interrelationships between the development of Amsterdam and the history of capitalism.
Visits to Amsterdam Exchange and tours of the city centre.
Key articles and other resources will be provided at the start of the course.


Pepijn Brandon is Assistant Professor of Economic and Social History at the Vrije Universiteit and Senior Researcher at the International Institute of Social History. He obtained his PhD at the University of Amsterdam and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and a visiting fellow at Harvard’s Weatherhead Initiative for Global History.

“Explaining the origin and driving forces of capitalism is one of the master-themes of history and the social sciences. The study of capitalism offers a key to the great challenges of our times, from rampant climate change to growing global inequality and the return of authoritarian government.”

Research portal of the Department of History at VU Amsterdam
History of Capitalism