The 17th-century Dutch Republic made significant contributions to our understanding of world geography, the biological and physical sciences, mathematics, economics, international law, and the visual arts. Yet this Golden Age had a dark underbelly – the Dutch participation in colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade. In the estimate of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, of the 12,521,337 Africans transported, 554,336 were brought to the Americas on Dutch ships.
Activist historians, many working from outside academia, persist in pushing the hidden history of Dutch slavery to the fore. Ewald Vanvugt’s Roofstaat (2016) is an 800-page indictment of the Dutch “Robber State.” In White Innocence (2016), Gloria Wekker accuses Dutch academia of turning away from the sordid episodes of Dutch history. Anousha Nzume argues that the majority white population long for an unproblematic history that is “gezellig” or cosy, but as soon as they are confronted with the fact of race they fall back on a defensive position of white fragility. Rosmarijn Hoefte, newly appointed Professor of the History of Suriname from 1873, admits that the Dutch lag far behind their international colleagues in the study of colonialism and slavery. Some historical figures formerly considered national heroes have now been exposed as leaders in the slave trade. Recent controversies have focused on the renaming of streets and the removal of statues of these fallen heroes. Continue reading “Pride, Shame, and White Fragility in Dutch Colonial History”→
Before the holidays we read Paul Doolan’s response to our post with great interest. We appreciate the time and effort Mr Doolan took to reply to our post as we think a fruitful debate will progress knowledge. With this writing we give a final reaction to Mr Doolan and if it is not for knowledge progression, it will at least get Dr Sadiah Boonstra’s name spelled correctly.
In his response Doolan claims that our critique was based on a misreading and that he was referring to a specific period of time, namely 1945-1949, but that we “prefer to talk about something else”. However, in our view this period cannot be separated from the larger framework of colonialism as political, social, cultural and economic structures of domination. And this is exactly what Dutch historians and others have been trying to deconstruct over the past decades as set out in our previous response. We therefore uphold our argument against Doolan’s representation of a Dutch historical “guild” based in Leiden. Instead of calling on “outsiders”, as Doolan suggests, we favor collaborative methods to uncover the depth, multilayeredness and reach of colonialism. Continue reading “Rewriting Dutch colonial histories – Final response”→
Paul Doolan Zurich International School and the University of Konstanz
I sincerely appreciate that Saadia Boonstra and Caroline Drieёnhuizen took the time and effort to offer a reply to my article. However, their critique was based on a misreading. Perhaps it was the obscurity of my prose, or maybe it was the title (not of my choosing) “Decolonizing Dutch History” that led to a misunderstanding.
Their opening sentence already indicates a misreading. They claim that I “criticized Dutch historians for their failure to decolonize Dutch and colonial history”. But that was not the point I wished to make. I wrote that my concern was “in particular, the nature of Dutch warmaking during the final years of the Asian colony, 1945-1949.” In other words, my subject was the history of decolonization, not the decolonization of history. There is a difference.
The point that I made in a nutshell is this – for many decades Dutch historians have inadequately investigated the decolonization of Indonesia (1945-1949). In my article of 80 lines, 60 lines focus directly on the decolonization of Indonesia. In their response of 38 lines just four focus on this topic. My claim is that if you mention the subject of decolonization, many Dutch historians of colonialism prefer to start talking about something else. I think Boonstra and Drieёnhuizen inadvertently have proven my point. Continue reading “Response: Rewriting Dutch Colonial Histories”→
Paul Doolan (Zürich International School / University of Konstanz) recently criticized Dutch historians for their failure to decolonize Dutch and colonial history, and suggested the contribution of what he calls ‘outsiders’ as a solution. In doing so, however, he overlooks the fact that there are and have been many initiatives to rewrite Dutch colonial history. We propose instead that approach, method, and the writing of multiple histories are of much greater importance in decolonizing Dutch history.
Critical research on colonial history in the Netherlands
Doolan’s main observation is the existence of what he calls a ‘Guild of Historians’, consisting of mainly white males based in Leiden, which has resulted in a neglect of attention for the dark sides of Dutch colonial history. He sees that the ‘guild’s power’ has started to wane only recently following historical work by ‘outsiders’ like Rémy Limpach, who shows in his recent publication that the Dutch war crimes in colonial Indonesia were widespread, structural and fully supported by the legal, political, and military leadership. Continue reading “Rewriting Dutch Colonial Histories”→
Paul Doolan Zurich International School and the University of Konstanz
Last month the academic year commenced at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) with speakers celebrating diversity and internationalism. Ironically, the audience in the auditorium was almost entirely white. In Amsterdam the majority of school age children come from migrant backgrounds, yet the university has an overwhelmingly white faculty that lectures to an overwhelmingly white student body. Most remarkable is the widely held attitude that this is not a problem.
As a historian interested in the roots of Eurocentrism and the legacies of imperialism, I would suggest that such an attitude is linked to the failure in teaching imperial history in the Netherlands. Through eight decades since the eviction of the Dutch from Indonesia, Dutch historians have consistently abdicated their responsibility by refusing to properly teach the public about the nature of Dutch rule in the former Dutch East Indies and, in particular, the nature of Dutch warmaking during the final years of the Asian colony, 1945-1949.Continue reading “Decolonizing Dutch History”→
Paul Doolan University of Zurich and Zurich International School
In July 2012 a Dutch national newspaper, de Volkskrant, published two photos on its front page showing Dutch soldiers brutally shooting and killing unarmed victims in a mass grave. The images were shocking to a nation that prides itself as being upright and humanitarian. Never mind that the photos were nearly 70 years old. Found in a rubbish tip, they were, in fact, the first ever photos to be published of Dutch soldiers killing Indonesians during a war of decolonization that is still euphemistically referred to as a “Police Action.”