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Big Questions and Big Data: A Reply from the Collaboratory

  • Karin Hofmeester (a1) and Christine Moll-Murata (a2)

In our reply to Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk’s “Big Questions and Big Data: The Role of Labour and Labour Relations in Recent Global Economic History”, we focus on her observations on the Global Collaboratory on the History of Labour Relations. We endorse many of her suggestions to connect global labour and economic history and to regard labour relations not only as a dependent variable. In fact, as the examples from various Collab workshops and publications show, some of these ideas are already being put into practice. These examples also show that if we seriously want to combine global labour and economic history data and join the debate on the growth (or decrease) in social inequality, workers’ individual and collective agency must be taken on board. Finally, we argue that global labour and economic historians can benefit most from each other’s disciplines by truly working together in collaborative projects, developing new theories, perhaps less grand than those with which economic historians attract so much attention, but more profound.


Karin Hofmeester and Christine Moll-Murata. Grandes questions et megadonnées. Une réponse du Collaboratoire.

Dans notre réponse à “Grandes questions et megadonnées : le rôle du travail et des relations de travail dans l’histoire économique mondiale récente” d’Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, nous nous concentrons sur ses observations sur le Collaboratoire. Nous approuvons un grand nombre de ses suggestions de relier le travail mondial et l’histoire économique, et de ne pas considérer les relations de travail seulement comme une variable dépendante. En fait, comme le montrent les exemples tirés de divers ateliers-débat et publications du Collaboratoire, certaines de ces idées sont déjà en train d’être mises en pratique. Ces exemples montrent aussi que si nous voulons sérieusement combiner les données du travail mondial avec l’histoire économique et participer au débat sur la hausse (ou la baisse) des inégalités sociales. Enfin, nous soutenons que les historiens du travail mondial et les historiens économistes peuvent profiter de leurs disciplines respectives en travaillant véritablement ensemble dans des projets collaboratifs, en développant de nouvelles théories, peut-être moins chatoyantes que celles avec lesquelles les historiens economistes attirent tant d’attention, mais plus profondes.

Traduction: Christine Plard

Karin Hofmeester und Christine Moll-Murata, Große Fragen und Big Data: Eine Replik aus des Collaboratory.

In unserer Replik auf Elise van Nederveen Meerkerks “Große Fragen und Big Data. Die Rolle der Arbeit und der Arbeitsbeziehungen in der jüngeren globalen Wirtschaftsgeschichte” konzentrieren wir uns auf ihre Beobachtungen zum Collaboratory. Wir stimmen vielen ihrer Anregungen zu, globale Arbeitsgeschichte und globale Wirtschaftsgeschichte miteinander zu verbinden und Arbeitsbeziehungen nicht allein als abhängige Variable zu begreifen. Tatsächlich belegen viele von Vertretern beider Disziplinen organisierte Workshops und gemeinsame Veröffentlichungen, dass solche Überlegungen bereits praktisch umgesetzt werden. Diese Beispiele zeigen auch, dass die individuelle und kollektive Handlungsfähigkeit der Arbeiter berücksichtigt werden muss, wenn wir die Daten der globalen Arbeitsgeschichte und die der globalen Wirtschaftsgeschichte zusammenführen und uns an der Debatte über die Ausweitung (oder die Verringerung) sozialer Ungleichheit beteiligen wollen. Abschließend argumentieren wir dahingehend, dass globale Arbeits- und globale Wirtschaftshistoriker dann am stärksten von der jeweils anderen Disziplin profitieren können, wenn sie in Kooperationsprojekten zusammenarbeiten und dabei neue Theorien entwickeln, die vielleicht weniger grandios ausfallen als diejenigen, mit denen Wirtschaftshistoriker Aufsehen erregen, dafür aber auch tiefgreifender sind.

Übersetzung: Max Henninger

Karin Hofmeester and Christine Moll-Murata. Grandes cuestiones y grandes bases de datos: una respuesta desde el “colaboratorio”.

En nuestra respuesta a Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk’s “Grandes cuestiones y grandes bases de datos: el papel del trabajo y de las relaciones laborales en la reciente historia económica global”, centramos nuestra atención en sus observaciones respecto al “colaboratorio”. Compartimos muchas de sus sugerencias para poner en conexión la historia global del trabajo y la historia global y en lo que se refiere a las relaciones laborales no sólo como una variable dependiente. De hecho, como se ha puesto de manifiesto en diferentes talleres “colaborativos” y como distintas publicaciones demuestran, algunas de esas ideas ya se están poniendo en práctica. Estos ejemplos también nos permiten ver que si en serio queremos combinar la información de la historia global del trabajo y los de la historia global y compartir el debate sobre el crecimiento (o decrecimiento) de la desigualdad social. Por último, consideramos que los historiadores globales del trabajo y los historiadores globales se pueden beneficiar mucho recíprocamente de sus propias disciplinas trabajando realmente de forma conjunta en proyectos colaborativos, desarrollando nuevas teorías quizás algo menos amplias que aquellas con las que los historiadores económicos llaman tanto la atención, pero mucho más profundas.

Traducción: Vicent Sanz Rozalén

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1 Hofmeester, Karin, Lucassen, Jan, and da Silva, Filipa Ribeiro, “No Global Labor History Without Africa: Reciprocal Comparison and Beyond”, introduction to the special section “Labor History in Africa” of History in Africa, 41 (2014), pp. 249276 , 256; Karin Hofmeester, Jan Lucassen, Leo Lucassen, Rombert Stapel and Richard Zijdeman, “The Global Collaboratory on the History of Labour Relations, 1500–2000: Background, Set-Up, Taxonomy and Applications” (October 2015), available at:, last accessed 5 January 2017.

2 Lucassen, Leo, “Working Together: New Directions in Global Labour History”, Journal of Global History, 11:1 (2016), pp. 6687 , 72–83.

3 For the labour relations datasets see, last accessed 5 January 2017; for the indicators of global inequality and economic growth see, last accessed 5 January 2017.

4 For an overview of all workshops see, last accessed 5 January 2017.

5 Charles Tilly and Chris Tilly, Work under Capitalism (Boulder, CO, 1998), p. 22.

6 Austin, Gareth, “Reciprocal Comparison and African History: Tackling Conceptual Eurocentrism in the Study of Africa’s Economic Past”, African Studies Review, 50:3 (2007), pp. 128 , 10.

7 For an interactive tool that presents Collab data as tree maps, see, last accessed 5 January 2017.

8 Mendiola, Fernando, “The Role of Unfree Labour in Capitalist Development: Spain and its Empire, Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Centuries”, International Review of Social History, 61: SI24 (2016), pp. 187211 , 206–211.

9 In this hypothesis, the population growth in the first stage of the First Demographic Transition would lead to increased pressure on land, which could lead to a shift from reciprocal to commodified labour, i.e. from self-subsistence agriculture to wage labour. The Second Demographic Transition, which took place in the 1960s, leading to changes in sexual and reproductive behaviour in Western Europe and North America, would have changed attitudes towards married women working for wages; however, by that time, forty-one per cent of married women in North America were already working. See Steve Ruggles, “Demographic Transition, Marriage Patterns, and Labor Force Change”, paper presented at the workshop “The Impact of Family and Demography on Labour Relations Worldwide”, held at the IISH on 12–13 December 2014.

10 Rossana Barragán Romano, “Extractive Economy and Institutions? Technology, Labour and Land in Potosí (16th–18th Centuries), in Karin Hofmeester and Pim de Zwart (eds), Colonialism, Institutional Change and Shifts in Global Labour Relations (forthcoming).

11 Elias C. Mandala, “The Triumph of the Peasant Option and the Parasitic Cotton Sector in Malawi, 1891-1995”, in Hofmeester and De Zwart, Colonialism, Institutional Change and Shifts in Global Labour Relations.

12 William Clarence-Smith, “The Industrialization of the Developing World, 1840s to 19040s”, in Hofmeester and De Zwart, Colonialism, Institutional Change and Shifts in Global Labour Relations.

13 Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, “Threads of Imperialism: Colonial Institutions and Gendered Labour Relations in the Textile Industry in the Dutch Empire”, in Hofmeester and De Zwart, Colonialism, Institutional Change and Shifts in Global Labour Relations.

14 See also Lucassen, “Working Together”, pp. 77–78; Hofmeester et al., “No Global Labor History Without Africa”, pp. 10–11.

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International Review of Social History
  • ISSN: 0020-8590
  • EISSN: 1469-512X
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