Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Institutional memory in the making of colonial culture: history, experience and ideas in Dutch colonialism in Asia, 1700 – 1870.

What did colonial officials and missionaries think they were doing?

2018  -   2022
Alicia Schrikker
NWO Vidi NWO Vidi

This project takes an interdisciplinary approach to study Dutch colonial culture in Asia. The central question is how local experience, colonial knowledge and political thought influenced the way colonial officials and clergy perceived the world around them and conceived their own role within that world. In what way did these locally developed colonial cultures spread into the Dutch empire? The project argues that between 1700 and 1870 the formation of colonial culture should be seen as a continuous, cumulative process that was shaped for the larger part in the offices in Asia, rather than in the libraries of political thinkers in the Netherlands. The project challenges traditional periodization by analyzing colonialism during the VOC and colonial-state period in unity, rather than separately. It will show that until around 1870, when the plantation economy and professionalization of officialdom takes off, colonialism changed only gradually. The project engages with important debates about present postcolonial Netherlands, and starts from the premise that colonial culture in the Netherlands cannot be understood when studied in isolation from its Asian context.

Inspired by the Anthropology of Work and the concept of ‘organizational identity’, this project examines underutilized material from the colonial offices—specifically those of the residenten, church councils, and Governor General—where day-to-day society-state interaction took place. The three subprojects focus on discourse analysis in their research into the respective serial administrative, legal and church documents. This will unearth how local experience influenced Dutch visions of the colonial enterprise and vice-versa. The results are connected in the synthesis and linked up with developments in other empires. By arguing that cultures of empire are to a large extent informed by local practice within the empire, this project will offer a novel perspective the evolution of colonial culture.


Project leader: Dr. Alicia Schrikker

PhD Students: Alexander van der Meer and Philip Post

Postdoc: dr. Sanne Ravensbergen

PhD Project 1: Reproducing past, present and future: colonial visions and experience in Asia in the residencies

This project focuses on the regional office of the residenten and assistent-residenten, or governors and commanders, as their eighteenth-century predecessors were called. These men operated like autocrats, carrying executive and judicial powers. They were responsible for collecting taxes, public order and political relations in their regions. Coercion, mediation and diplomacy formed the major means to achieve this. In VOC times it was customary to write down a report about the status quo, with advice for the successors. These memories van overgave are extremely informative about local society, political relations and colonial planning. The second source genre that will be examined cross-sectionally are the local official journals or dagregisters.

Conducted by Philip Post

PhD Project 2: Spirited narratives of purpose and progress: church-society engagement alongside the (Company-) state

This research will look at the creation of institutional memory in the church. While the aims of the church seem obvious, the narrative of purpose developed by the church officials is less evident, but it will surface through a longitudinal reading of the sources. Therefore Phd Project 2 is set up in the same way as Project 1, except that religion takes in a more explicit position. It focuses on perceptions of 'Dutch Sovereignty and the role of Protestantism; Indigenous religions and political culture; Social hierarchies in society; Nature and geography; Local history.

Conducted by Alexander van der Meer 

Postdoc Project 3: Building cultures of legality: lawmaking and anxiety in the office of the Governor General

This postdoc project takes up the complex task of understanding the process of law-making in a colonial society where legal pluralities were the norm. The project focuses on the office of the Governor General or Algemene Secretarie as it started to be called in the nineteenth-century century. It looks at the ordinances that were issued from this office. Such ordinances were sometimes initiated from the Netherlands, but most often they arose out of local issues. The printed ordinances for the VOC period were collected in compendia at the time, and have been published in the nineteenth century by government archivist Van der Chijs. The nineteenth-century ordinances were collected and published each year in the Staatsblad voor Nederlands-Indië. The ordinances are very diverse and range from instructions for tax farming to the issue of travel passes or criminal punishments.

Conducted by Sanne Ravensbergen

Connection with other research

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