The Global Collaboratory on the History of Labour Relations


The first main goal of the Global Collaboratory on the History of Labour Relations is to provide statistical insights into the global distribution of all types of labour relations (systematically including women's and child labour) in five historical cross-sections: 1500, 1650, 1800, 1900, [Africa: 1950], and 2000. The second main goal will be the explanation of signalled shifts in labour relations world wide.

During the first phase of the project (2007-2012), made possible by generous funding from the Gerda Henkel Stiftung in Düsseldorf, and additional funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the IISH, a large group of international scholars met during workshops, worked together online and developed a large number of datasets containing data on the occurrence of all types of labour relations in all parts of the world during five cross-sections in time, thereby also developing a new taxonomy (update October 2015) of labour relations based on a shared set of definitions. A handy visualisation tool, the treemap helps you to interpret the data quickly. Without the enthusiasm and not to mention the many hours of production of our collaborators who are the beating heart of this collaboratory, the project would not have been possible.

A generous grant from the Gerda Henkel Stiftung enabled the Global Collaboratory on the History of Labour to continue its major project. In the second phase of the project (2013-2019) we hope to analyse major shifts in labour relations worldwide on the basis of a number explanatory factors:

  • Political change
  • Economic institutional change
  • Changes in family and household patterns
  • Mechanisms of shifts in and out of self-employment

For more information, please see the abbreviated version of the project description.

Update taxonomy:


  • On 25 and 26 June 2018 a workshop on labour relations in China in the 20th century was held at the IISH in Amsterdam. See the program.
  • On 15-16 December 2016 a workshop on shifts in and out of self-employment was organised at the IISH in Amsterdam. See the program.
  •  On 25-26 June 2016 a workshop introducing the Global Collaboratory on the History of Labour Relations and Recent Research on Industrial Relations in 20th-century China was organized at the East China Normal University in Shanghai. See the program.
  • On 24-25 June 2015 a workshop on Labour Relations in Portugal and the Lusophone World was organized in Lisbon, Portugal. For the program: click here.
  • On 12-13 December 2014 we organised our third thematic workshop "Changes in family and demography". See the program.
  • On 26-27 September 2014 we organised our second thematic workshop "Economic institutional change". See the program.
  • On 7 and 8 February 2014 the first of a new set of workshops was held in Amsterdam: "Political Change as a Determinant of Shifting Labour Relations". A preliminary program can be found here.
  • On 24 and 25 June 2013 a thematic workshop was held in Estoril on how archeology and historical linguistics, geography and anthropology can help us gain insights in labour relations in sub-Saharan Africa, see the program.
  • On 22 June 2013  the fourth workshop of the Lusophone workgroup of the Collaboratory was held in Lisbon, see the program.


Recently the IISH acquired a considerable amount of book volumes containing census data from 139 countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Oceania, Africa and Latin America from 1880 until 1980. For more information see the IISH website an Excel sheet listing all volumes can be found in the IISH Catalogue.

Selection of recent publications:


Spin off projects:

  • The Gerda Henkel Stiftung will fund a project to collect data from the Royal Inspection of 1683 in Bolivia. The data will be analysed, in line with the taxonomy of the Collaboratory, and entered into a database. The project is coordinated by Raquel Gil Montero, other participants are Paula Zagalsky and Lía Guillermina Oliveto from Argentina.
  • The Lusophone subgroup received funding from the Portuguese Foundation of Science and Technology for a project entitled ‘Labour relations in Portugal and the Lusophone world 1800-2000: continuity and change’, based on the Collaboratory, but adding more cross-sections in time.
  • Erdem Kabadayı received funding for a project entitled ‘An introduction to the occupational history of Turkey 1840-1940’, using the taxonomy as analytical tool.