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Foto: Stadsarchief Amsterdam

UvA to commission research into its own colonial past

Dirk Wolthekker,
9 maart 2023 - 16:49

The UvA will launch a major research project next spring in which its own involvement in the Dutch colonial and slavery past will be the subject of investigation. The research will be conducted by a yet-to-be-determined “independent and reputable institute with expertise in this field,” the UvA said in a statement.

Like any self-respecting institute, the UvA is now going to research its own colonial and slavery history. For this purpose, a research assignment is under development and will be outsourced. To which institute, that will be announced later this spring. For this research, a social and an academic advisory committee will be set up in which UvA experts will also be involved.
Caspar Barlaeus
The nearly four hundred-year-old UvA was founded in 1632 as Athenaeum Illustre. One of its first professors was philosopher, poet and preacher Caspar Barlaeus, whose effigy can still be seen in the courtyard garden of the Oudemanhuispoort. “In 1632, Caspar Barlaeus praised the wealthy merchants who founded the Athenaeum Illustre because they started connecting their entrepreneurial spirit with knowledge and insight. Those ventures were undoubtedly linked to the colonies and slavery,” states initiator and UvA’s Central Diversity Officer Machiel Keestra. “The City of Amsterdam and De Nederlandse Bank, among others, have already explored their own colonial histories.”
Last January, the UvA celebrated its 391st anniversary. That centuries-old history can be seen in several UvA buildings that date back to colonial times. The Oost-Indisch Huis, for example, was once an office of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). However, not enough is known about the role of the UvA and the Athenaeum Illustre in the colonial past. “That needs to be researched,” says Keestra. “We need to know the facts of our own history, face the legacy of that history and be able to account for it.”

We need to know the facts of our own history, face the legacy of that and be able to account for it

Two parts
The research project has two parts. It will start with a preliminary study that will identify which collections, archives and buildings need further investigation. This preliminary study will form the basis for the actual research, which is likely to take several years. The results of the preliminary study will appear in 2024.
Decolonial Dialogues
Meanwhile, the Faculty of Humanities (FGw) is already fully engaged with colonial history. The public programme ‘Decolonial Dialogues@Humanities’, for instance, was recently launched. The so-called ‘VOC-zaal’ in the Bushuis shows a historical reconstruction of the VOC past, but in recent years staff and students have grown uneasy about the way in which the colonial past of the Netherlands and Amsterdam is (re)presented at this location. Therefore, last year the faculty decided to temporarily close the venue. This year, it will host lectures, performances, podcast recordings and small exhibitions.