Sven Van Melkebeke



Spreekuren: op afspraak

Adres: UFO, Sint-Pietersnieuwstraat 35, 9000 Gent, bureau 130.012


- World history

- Rural history

- Social and economic history

- Labor history


"Changing grounds. ‘Free’ and ‘unfree’ coffee-growing labor in the Kivu region, Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi, 1920-1960" (Supervisor: Prof. Eric Vanhaute)

The project explores the new coffee frontier in the region around Lake Kivu in Central Africa in the period 1920-1960. In response to the ascendency of coffee as a mass commodity, new zones of coffee cultivation emerged in South America, Asia and Africa. After the 1920’s, Kivu developed in a successful coffee growing region. This project will focus on: a/ the interaction between large scale (plantations) and small scale (smallholders) production systems; b/ the mobilisation and employment of ‘free’ and ‘unfree’ labor; c/ the strategies of rural populations to keep control over their resources. By using a comparative framework this project will provide new insights into the way labor relations changed within the Belgian colonies in response to the pressures and incentives of the ascending global commodity market.


- "Review: Jan Breman, Mobilizing Labour for the Global Coffee Market. Profits From an Unfree Work Regime in Colonial Java", TSEG, 16(3), 2016, pp.130-131

- "Coerced coffee cultivation and rural agency: the plantation-economy of the Kivu (1918-1940)" in: Van der Linden Marcel & Rodriguez Garcia Magaly (eds.), On coerced labor. Work and compulsion after chattel slavery, Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2016, pp.187-207

- "Dualisme ou dynamisme? Une analyse de l'économie rurale congolaise durant l'Entre-deux-guerres", Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Nieuwste Geschiedenis, 43(2-3), 2013, pp.152-177



- "Transforming the countryside: coffee production, land and labor in the Lake Kivu area (1918-1960)", paper presented at the World History Associaton 25th Annual Conference, Ghent (Belgium), July 2-5th 2016

- "Diversity in development: deviant coffee-producing paths in the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi (1918-1940)", paper presented at the International KAOW/ARSOM Conference: The Belgian Congo between the Two World Wars, Brussels (Belgium), March 17-18th 2016

- "Forced labor and rural agency in the coffee plantation-economy of the Kivu in the Interwar years", paper presented at the 50th Linzer Conference: Work and Complusion. Coerced Labour in Domestic, Service, Agricultural, Factory and Sex Work, ca. 1850-2000s, Linz (Austria), September 27th 2014

- "Forced labor and ...", paper presented at the 4th European Congress on World and Global History, Paris (France), September 4th 2014

- "Coffee: a comparative analysis of how a hot beverage affected local food systems", paper presented at the GAPSYM7: Africa and Food: challenges, risks and opportunities, Ghent (Belgium), December 6th 2013

Other activities

- Poster presentation "Diversity in Development. The case of divergent coffee-producing paths in the Lake Kivu area", WEHC (World Economic History Congress), Kyoto (Japan), August 3th - August 7th 2015

- Summer School "Economic History", Warwick University, Coventry (UK), July 21th - August 8th 2014

- "Een vernieuwende kijk op de integratie van de Congolese rurale economie in het kapitalistische wereldsysteem", lecture given at the ICAG (Interfaculty Centre for Agrarian History), Leuven (Belgium), June 11th 2014