Dr. K.J. (Karwan) Fatah-Black

  • Assistant Professor
  • Early modern Global and Atlantic history
  • Maritime history
  • Dutch slavery and slave trade
  • Smuggling and contraband trade

Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 2666
E-Mail: k.j.fatah@hum.leidenuniv.nl
Faculty / Department: Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Institute for History, Economische en Sociale geschiedenis
Office Address: Johan Huizingagebouw
Doelensteeg 16
2311 VL Leiden
Room number 2.05b
Personal Homepage: leidenuniv.academia.edu/​KarwanFatahBlack

Karwan Fatah-Black (1981) is assistant professor at the department of Social and Economic History of Leiden University. In 2013 he defended his dissertation on the role of Paramaribo as a nodal point in Atlantic trade in the project ‘Dutch Atlantic Connections, 1680-1795’ funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). Over the years he has become an active participant in Dutch and international debates on historical globalization, the history of empire, colonialism and slavery, both inside and outside the academic world. After obtaining his PhD he continued to study the development of the Dutch early modern formal and informal empire in the NWO project ‘Challenging Monopolies’ led by Catia Antunes. In 2015 he was appointed the position of assistant professor in Leiden and later that year was awarded the prestigious VENI grant from NWO to develop and reinvigorate the field of slavery studies in the Netherlands through an investigation of urban slave agency and empowerment in 18th and 19th century Suriname. This project, titled ‘Paths through slavery’ runs from the spring of 2016 to the fall of 2019.

Karwan is a member of the board of the Institute for the Advancement of Suriname Studies (IBS), co-founder of the Leiden Slavery Studies Association, and an elected staff-representative to the University Council of Leiden University. He is co-editor of the Journal of Global Slavery, the journal of Suriname and Caribbean studies OSO, and the Zeven Provinciën book series on the history and culture of the early modern Netherlands.


Slavery, smuggling and informality have been at the core of Karwans work. First in ‘Dutch Atlantic Connections, 1680-1795’ where he studied the trade connections, formal and informal between Paramaribo and the Atlantic world. Here he found that trade outside the formal company structures was constitutive of the colony and the Dutch Atlantic at large. During this research he devised methods to investigate and quantify smuggling and was able to include illegal trade to complement our understanding of the trade network around Suriname.

A major secondary focus has been the Dutch trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery. His work with Matthias van Rossum on the slave trade resulted in a revision of the basic figures of the trade and offered a conceptual innovation with regard to understanding the economic impact of the slave trade beyond the traditional “company perspective”.

Later he applied these findings in his work as postdoc for the NWO funded project ‘Challenging Monopolies’ led by Catia Antunes where he studied the informal empire of free agents who operated outside, alongside and against the colonial chartered companies of the Dutch overseas expansion.

In his new project ‘Paths through Slavery’ informality and slavery remain central, now to understand processes of emancipation and exclusion from the 18th to the 19th century.


Over the last years Karwans work has appeared in journals such as Slavery & Abolition, BMGN-Low Countries Historical Review, Itinerario, International Review of Social History, and the Journal of Early American History.

In 2015 his monograph White Lies and Black Markets: evading metropolitan authority in colonial Suriname, 1650-1800 was published with Brill. Since then he co-edited Reizen door het Maritieme Verleden van Nederland for Walburg Pers with Anita van Dissel and Maurits Ebben.

In 2016 Routledge publishes Explorations in History and Globalization which he edited together with Catia Antunes. This handbook contains state-of-the-art contributions that are aimed at graduate and undergraduate students.

That same year will see the printing of an English translation of the Anton de Kom’s classic We Slaves of Suriname. This classic text was first printed in Dutch in 1934. Together with Antonio Carmona Baez and with the help of Erica Pommerans, Karwan translated and edited this text and wrote an introduction to this unique edition.

At the moment he works on writing a history of the metropolitan side of the Suriname Company (Sociëteit van Suriname) for Walburg Pers.

Last Modified: 10-12-2015