Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

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

Research question T.B.A.

2018 - 2022
Philip Post

This research 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. After the dismantling of the VOC, this type of knowledge transfer went out of use, but it was brought back in practice from the 1850s. The second source genre that will be examined cross-sectionally are the local official journals or dagregisters.

This project focuses on these traditions of administrative knowledge transfer. It analyzes what knowledge was passed between officials and tries to understand the norms and morality that were attached to this knowledge. Important themes in this project are: Dutch Sovereignty and just rule; Indigenous customs and political culture; Social hierarchies in society; Nature and geography; Local history.

Key components

The project consists of four components:

1. What narratives of purpose did VOC officials produce and reproduce in these memories van overgave?

2. To what extent did the memoirs from Ambon created after 1850 reproduce the knowledge that was built up in the eighteenth century, and to what extent did an adaptation of this knowledge take place under influence of the experience of the ‘Age of Revolutions’?

3. The official journals will be used to understand how everyday experience in office fed into these memories van overgave.

4. What is the legacy of this particular bureaucratic tradition? The memoirs have never been critically studied as a genre, while they have been a very important source of information for historians and anthropologists. This project is therefore essential to understand how colonial culture was reflected in historiography, where it potentially had a long-lasting influence.

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