Willem Van Schendel

Position / Job title: Professor of Modern Asian History

Department: International Institute of Social History

Institution: University of Amsterdam

E-mail address: H.W.vanSchendel@uva.nl

My current research deals with (a) Borderlands and the social consequences of the mobility of people and goods. Borderlands are important sites for studying migrating people and moving commodities as well as the shifting networks of solidarity, remittances, knowledge, meaning and power that result from such practices. My main focus is on the borderlands of India, Bangladesh and Burma. (b) Mobile cash-crop production systems and trajectories of globalization. I am interested in the production of commodities for world markets, how production was embedded in agrarian societies, and under which circumstances these systems could be moved from one (colonial) society to another. Why were plans to establish a new cash-crop production system successful in one case but not another? How did different combinations of labour, land, water, capital and knowledge enable or disable such systems? My main focus is on the global movement of indigo production in the late 18th and 19th centuries, with special attention to British India (now India/Bangladesh) and the Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia).


Book Chapters:

  • Green Plants into Blue Cakes: Working for Wages in Colonial Bengal’s Indigo Industry,’ in Marcel van der Linden and Leo Lucassen (ed.), Working on Labor: Essays in Honor of Jan Lucassen (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012), 47-73.
  • ‘The ‘Asianization of Indigo: Rapid Change in a Global Trade Around 1800,’ in: Peter Boomgaard, Dick Kooiman and Henk Schulte Nordholt (eds.), Linking Destinies: Trade, Towns and Kin in Asian History (Leiden: KITLV Press, 2008), 29-49.


  • Global Blue: Indigo and Espionage in Colonial Bengal (Dhaka: University Press Limited ), with Pierre-Paul Darrac
  • Reviving a Rural Industry: Silk Producers and Officials in India and Bangladesh, 1880s to 1980s, (Dhaka: University Press Ltd. & Delhi: Manohar Publications)

Other Publications:

  • ‘Guns and Gas in Southeast Asia: Transnational Flows in the Burma-Bangladesh Borderland,’ Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia (August 2006). (Published simultaneously in English, Japanese, Filipino, Thai and Indonesian). http://www. kyotoreviewsea.org/Van_schendel_eng.htm