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KNAW Early Career Award for Carolien Stolte

Carolien Stolte has received an Early Career Award from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). She received this award for her research into the role of informal Afro-Asian networks in the Cold War. For this innovative research she received the award, an amount of 15,000 euros, and an artwork.

Piecing together sources

Carolien Stolte is a university lecturer at the Institute for History. Her research focuses on the intellectual history of South Asia from a transregional perspective. She is currently researching collaborations within the decolonizing world during the early Cold War. ‘There exists excellent research on the diplomatic networks of government leaders such as Nehru, Sukarno and Nasser. But I am interested in the layer underneath: the Afro-Asian networks of trade union leaders, peace activists, feminists, writers, and artists. These contacts are difficult to get your hands on. There is no obvious archive; you have to piece together a multitude of sources,' explains Stolte. ‘Some of these networks were considered to be, for example, dangerous judging from a Cold War or former colonial powers’ viewpoint. In that case they have left a considerable footprint in the archives of intelligence services, but as a source they of course represent a certain perspective. I love to link as many different types of sources as possible, from surveillance reports to songs and poems.'


Stolte is one of twelve Dutch researchers who received an Early Career Award. How does she feel about winning this award? Stolte: 'This is really amazing! It is a huge acknowledgement, not only for my own work, but also for this relatively new line of research. It is very important that we get a better understanding of how much the Cold War and decolonisation were intertwined, and how cleverly activists from Africa and Asia not only navigated along new political divisions, but often just right through them. This also contradicts the persisting idea that the decolonizing world was predominantly the battlefield of superpowers.'

Collaboration and research

‘The only way to carry out this type of research is to collaborate a lot. We’re talking about the transcontinental movement of people and ideas, and the best results come from bringing together archives from different places and in different languages. It is both inefficient and not good to want to do that on your own', says Stolte. ‘In recent years, I have worked with a fantastic group of international colleagues who work on these themes from different regional specialisations. We write and publish a lot together. This is relatively unusual within the field of history, so we try to actively promote the importance of this.’

It is the first time that the KNAW Early Career Awards are awarded and the winners come from all academic fields. A total of twelve Dutch researchers have been given awards, including three scholars from Leiden, including Berthe Jansen.

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