The Heart of Capitalism, 1600-present

Amsterdam and The Capitalist World
Capitalism does have a heart, at least in an economic and geographical sense. From 1600 onwards, for a long time that heart was Amsterdam. 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.
Course levelAdvanced Bachelor/Master, open to PhD staff and professionals
Recommended course combinationSession 1: The Economics of Urbanization 
Session 3: Impact of An Empire
Session 214 July to 28 July 2018
Co-ordinating lecturerProf. Karel Davids
Other lecturersProf. Inger Leemans, Dr Pepijn Brandon and guests
Form(s) of tuitionInteractive seminars, lectures, excursions
Form(s) of assessmentPresentation, short paper
ECTS        3 credits
Contact hours45
Tuition fee€1150
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 and current debates about “global” and “creative” cities. Since the development of capitalism is now considered part of a wider web of social relations, power structures, belief systems and cultural practices, we cover several centuries and many aspects of history:  social, economic, business, political, cultural and religious history  as well as the  history of emotions. 

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, the role of cultural industries  In doing so, we will engage with ongoing discussions among historians, social scientists and policy makers about ‘global’ and ‘creative’ 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.


Karel Davids

Karel Davids is professor of Economic and Social History at the Vrije Universiteit. He worked at the universities of Leiden and Rotterdam and was visiting professor at Columbia University  and visiting scholar at the New School for Social Research in New York.

"How does capitalism work ?  How does it affect people's lives  ? It is exciting to deal with these urgent questions in history and contemporary society"

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