Big Questions and Big data. The role of labour in recent global economic history


This article argues that global labour history (GLH) and global economic history have much to offer each other. GLH would do well to raise sweeping questions – for instance about the origins of global inequality – engage more with theory, and increasingly use quantitative methods. Instead of seeing labour and labour relations as historical phenomena to be explained, they can serve as important explanatory variables in historical analyses of economic development and divergence. In turn, economic historians have much to gain from the recent insights of global labour historians. GLH offers a more inclusive and variable usage of the concept of labour, abandoning, as it does, the often narrow focus on male wage labour in the analyses of many economic historians. Moreover, GLH helps to overcome thinking in binary categories, such as “free” and “unfree” labour. Ultimately, both fields will benefit from engaging in joint debates and theories, and from collaboration in collecting and analysing “big data”.


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