Ulbe Bosma

Senior Researcher IISH

Ulbe Bosma obtained his PhD in history at Leiden University in 1995. From 1993 to 2007 he acted as coordinator of the Sephis programme, sponsoring historical research in the Global South. Since 1997 he is Senior Researcher at the IISH and since 2012 professor of 'International Comparative Social History' at the Free University of Amsterdam. 

Bosma was visiting professor at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris, fellow at the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies and Guest Researcher at the Bonn Centre for Dependency and Slavery Studies (BCDSS). His main fields of interest are the histories of labour, international labour migration, and commodity frontiers. He is one of the leaders of the Commodity Frontiers Initiative.

In October 2022 Ulbe Bosma and Sven Beckert (Harvard University) wrote an article about Commodity Frontiers in Aeon: Ever more land and labour, Centuries of capitalism saw the global countryside ruthlessly converted into cheap commodities. But at what cost?

One of Bosma’s recent key publications is The Making of a Periphery (2019), in which he drew on new archival sources from the colonial period to the present to demonstrate how high demographic growth and a long history of bonded labour relegated Southeast Asia to the margins of the global economy.

In May 2023 Bosma published with Harvard University Press his highly praised The World of Sugar: How the Sweet Stuff Transformed Our Politics, Health, and Environment over 2,000 Years. The book is currently translated in multiple languages.

Read at Time, Ulbe Bosma how the world got “hooked” on sugar 

On BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed, listen to Ulbe Bosma explain how sugar has changed global politics, health, and even family relationships:

For his past publications and public engagements see: Ulbe Bosma – Research output — Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)

Ulbe Bosma