Spices, Gods and Trade Winds: Southeast Asia, 1500-1700

Tutor: Tara Alberts

Module type: Explorations

Module Code: HIS00056I

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Southeast Asia was the cross-roads of the world. Merchants, mercenaries, missionaries and adventurers travelled to the region from all over Asia, the Middle East, Europe and even the Americas. They were attracted by the unparalleled trading opportunities offered by the port-cities of the region; and by the availability of luxurious commodities especially spices, which were in high demand all over the world for use in medicines. They vied to establish trading and diplomatic links; to introduce new religions; and in some cases to conquer territory and establish new colonies and empires. At the same time, various polities within Southeast Asia experienced a period of intense change – with new political developments, religious reform and economic change reshaping daily life.

This module will explore this exciting and complex period of history, when groups from all over the world fought for influence and dominance in the region. We will explore why Southeast Asia was so significant in the early modern period, and why this importance has perhaps been forgotten by modern historians. Why did so many foreign powers invest so much time, manpower and money to establish links with kingdoms in the region? Why was Southeast Asia so crucial to the imperial policies of European empires? Why were Christian and Muslim proselytisers so interested in the conversion of communities there? We will explore the history of the region through contemporary written sources including Southeast Asian chronicles, diplomatic correspondance, travellers’ accounts and missionary reports, and through maps, artwork and material culture.

Seminars will cover the following areas:

  • Problems and Perspectives in Southeast Asia History
  • The Sources of Southeast Asian History
  • Southeast Asia, China, India, and the Wider World
  • Trade Networks, Port Cities and the Social Impacts of Commerce
  • European Trade and Colonialism
  • Southeast Asian Medicines and Techniques of Healing in the Global Marketplace
  • Gods, Spirits and Demons in Southeast Asia
  • Southeast Asia and the Muslim World
  • The Coming of the Christians 

Group project work will consist of engagement with primary sources (texts and images) relating to European trade and encounter in Southeast Asia.


For more information, please visit the module catalogue