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Indonesia and Leiden University have a shared history – and a shared future

Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker will head a delegation that is visiting Indonesia at the end of June. The visit is to celebrate the 50th anniversary of ‘Leiden’ institute KITLV-Jakarta. What does this institute do and why is Indonesia important to the University?

Marian Klamer, Professor of Austronesian and Papuan Linguistics, researches endangered languages in Indonesia

For over two centuries, scholars from Leiden have been conducting wide-ranging research in Indonesia: tropical plants, endangered languages, unique manuscripts, religions and infectious diseases are just some of the topics that they have studied. There is also a flourishing tradition of legal research, which was pioneered by Cornelis van Vollenhoven. Legal scholars from Leiden have been studying the friction between national and local legal norms in Indonesia since the 19th century. In addition, our researchers work with Indonesian partners to fight environmental pollution. And Indonesian students and researchers have been coming to Leiden for generations – and The Hague too nowadays.

The KITLV-Jakarta building is in the grounds of the Dutch embassy.

Bridge between Indonesia and Leiden

There are over 11,300 kilometres between Leiden and Jakarta. It was to bridge this gap that the KITLV, the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, was established in Leiden in 1851. In colonial times, this institute gathered knowledge about the overseas territories of the Netherlands. After decolonization, the need grew for a branch in Jakarta, which would make it easier to work with Indonesian academics. The KITLV therefore opened KITLV-Jakarta.

Long-term partnership

KITLV-Jakarta opened in 1969. Its main responsibilities were to work closely with Indonesian universities, to promote Dutch research in Indonesia and to purchase books and journals. ‘Our presence in Jakarta as a permanent point of contact has helped develop a long-term partnership with the academic world in Indonesia,’ says Marrik Bellen, director of KITLV-Jakarta.

The staff of KITLV-Jakarta.

New responsibilities for KITLV-Jakarta

KITLV-Jakarta purchases about 5,000 books for research every year. This growing collection has been managed by Leiden University Libraries since 2014. This was also the year in which the KITLV-Jakarta office became part of Leiden University (the institute in the Netherlands belongs to KNAW). Since then, it has served as a base for the University in Indonesia. The office organises many different activities to encourage Indonesians to study and conduct research in the Netherlands.

Largest Indonesia collection in the world

Why is Indonesia so important to Leiden University? Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker says, ‘We share a long history with Indonesia. Our Asian Library has the largest Indonesia collection in the world. These collections and our expertise in law, languages and history are part of the reason why Indonesian students and PhD candidates have traditionally come to Leiden for their research and studies. Today there is also close collaboration in the field of teaching, research and consultation.’

Below, in reverse chronological order, are a number of important moments from this shared history.

A photo from the University Library's Indonesia collection

Indonesians use Dutch archives

A good example of cooperation between Indonesia and Leiden is the Cosmopolis Advanced Master’s programme that was established in 2018 as a result of the collaboration between the Institute for History at Leiden University and Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta. Indonesian students are given an intensive course in Leiden that covers Dutch, archiving and history. This enables them to use Dutch archives for historical research into their own country. Indonesian students are currently researching slavery on the island of Sualawesi and the legal system of the Dutch East Indies, for instance.

Queen Máxima, patron of the KITLV, opens the new Asian Library together with KITLV directeur, Gert Oostindie.

Asian Library is opened

Queen Máxima, the patron of the KITLV, opened the new Asian Library in 2017: a new floor on the roof of the University Library. Bringing together the existing University Library collections and the very valuable collections of the KITLV and the Royal Tropical Institute created the largest Indonesia collection in the world. The Asian Library now houses over ten kilometres of Indonesian books, journals, maps, photos and manuscripts. The collection includes more than 250 ancient manuscripts about the Javanese Prince Panji, which have been awarded UNESCO world heritage status.

The Memory of the World exhibition can be seen at the University Library, with the La Galigo manuscript about Prince Panji.

Indonesian presidential visit

It was the enduring historical ties that brought Indonesian President Joko Widodo to Leiden University during his state visit to the Netherlands in 2016. In the Academy Building, he spoke to Carel Stolker and Indonesian students who are studying at the University. He also heard all about the Maps in the Crowd project at the University Library. Students and volunteers are digitising historical maps of the Dutch East Indies, which will make them available for study and research all over the world. Former Indonesian vice-president, Boediono, also visited the University, in 2014. He gave a lecture and looked at rare maps and photos from the Indonesia collection.

President Widodo (middle) in the Sweat Room.

First Indonesian PhD

During his visit, Boediono also unveiled a bronze statue of Hoesein Djajadiningrat (1886-1960), the first Indonesian to be awarded a PhD in Leiden, in 1913. Many compatriots would follow, and a flourishing Indonesian community emerged. The statue of Djajadiningrat in the atrium of the Academy Building symbolises the many generations of Indonesian researchers and students who have come to Leiden.

Indonesian students in the garden of their clubhouse in Leiden (1940). Photo KITLV/UBL

Second world war

The second world war left its mark on the Indonesian community in Leiden. Like all other students, the Indonesian students were forced to put their studies on hold; they, however, could not return home. Some became active members of the resistance and paid for this with their lives. The Indonesian clubhouse on Hugo de Grootstraat in Leiden became an important place of refuge. A memorial stone on the façade of this building – the initiative of the KITLV – reminds us of these turbulent times.

Indonesia training

The former entrance to the government stables at Plexus student centre on Kaiserstraat reminds us of a very different history. Until 1950, the University trained Dutch civil servants who were going to be sent to Indonesia. They learnt more about the country and the cultures and life there. They could even take riding lessons. That is why there were government stables in this spot for a longer period of time and why horses could often be seen trotting along Rapenburg.

These were the highlights of our shared history. The theme of delegation’s visit will be collaboration today and tomorrow. Read all about the visit on universiteitleiden.nl at the beginning of July.

Banner photo: President Widodo is greeted by Indonesian students in Leiden.
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