Dutch resources on slavery and colonialism: an update

Earlier this month the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam finally opened its doors to visitors for a major exhibition which examines the history of Dutch involvement in the international slave trade.  This exhibition, first conceived four years ago, was delayed due to COVID-19 but was officially opened in May by King Willem-Alexander and now runs until 29 August, with a powerful online version for people not able to visit in person. The exhibition tells the stories of slaves and the Dutch people who enslaved them, homing in on ten individual people and using oral history alongside historic objects and documents. There is a Cambridge connection as a plantation bell displayed at the entrance was until 2019 on display at St Catharine’s College. We have a copy of the accompanying exhibition catalogue: Slavernij: het verhaal van João, Wally, Oopjen, Paulus, Van Bengalen, Surapati, Sapali, Tula, Dirk, Lohkay (C216.c.9769)

News of this exhibition reminded me that a year ago I wrote about online Dutch titles on race and decolonisation. Since then we have looked out for relevant new titles to buy; already in October I reported on new Dutch books on race and identity. Here I will highlight some more new titles, mainly on slavery, along with a few older titles in print that we already had, now more accessible than a year ago.

Slavernijmonument in Oosterpark by Erwin de Vries, picture by Ceescamel via Wikimedia Commons

The colonial past of the Netherlands has been reassessed nationally in recent years, demonstrated by initiatives such as the 2002 unveiling of the National Slavery Monument in Oosterpark, Amsterdam. Recent publications show that a reassessment is also taking place at a local level. For example De slavernij in Oost en West: het Amsterdam-onderzoek  (C217.c.538) is an important new book in which historians consider the significance of the slave trade on the city of Amsterdam today and in the past, arguing that it was far more vital to the Dutch economy than some earlier historians may have suggested.  Amsterdam was also the focus for Leo Balai’s 2013 book Geschiedenis van de Amsterdamse slavenhandel  (C202.b.2259).

Back in 2017 the city council of Rotterdam commissioned a research study into the city’s colonial and slavery past. This project resulted in the publication of three books late last year, all of which we have acquired:

  • Het koloniale verleden van Rotterdam edited by Gert Oostindie (C217.c.1339)
  • Rotterdam, een postkoloniale stad in beweging edited by Francio Guadeloupe, Liane van der Linden and Paul van de Laar (C217.c.1336)
  • Rotterdam in slavernij by Alex van Stipriaan (C217.c.1338), the cover of which features a figure from Clave, a monument by Alex da Silva, unveiled eight years ago in Rotterdam, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the abolition of Dutch slavery in Surinam and the Dutch Antilles.

Another recent local treatment is Walcherse ketens: de trans-Atlantische slavenhandel en de economie van Walcheren, 1755-1780  by Gerhard de Kok (C217.c.1337) which looks at how the slave trade affected the economy of the region of Walcheren in Zeeland.

In a similar vein, new insights into the Belgian colonisation of the Congo are presented in Mathieu Zana Etambala’s Veroverd bezet gekoloniseerd: Congo 1876-1914 (C217.c.1340) using new source material such as diaries and letters that he found in archives.

Turning to slightly older books, a standard academic work from 1990 is Johannes Postma’s detailed The Dutch in the Atlantic slave trade, 1600-1815 (244.c.99.41, also available online), based on extensive archival research. An alternative (but with some controversy around it) is P. C. Emmer’s De Nederlandse slavenhandel, 1500-1850 (244:3.c.200.26).

An important indictment of slavery in Surinam is the 1934 book Wij slaven van Suriname (2017 edition at C206.d.2399) by Anton de Kom. We also have a biography of him: Anton de Kom: biografie 1898-1945, 1945-2009  by Alice Boots and Rob Woortman (C207.c.7755).

Het kasteel van Elmina: in het spoor van de Nederlandse slavenhandel in Afrika (2013) by Marcel van Engelen (C213.c.6528) takes its name from Elmina Castle on the coast of Ghana, a crucial location in the West African slave trade. This is a highly regarded account by a journalist of his travels discovering old slave routes and seeking out former connections between the Netherlands and Ghana.

This continues to be a flourishing area for research. We know that another major book, Nederland en de slavernij: een wereldgeschiedenis by Pepijn Brandon and Matthias van Rossum, is in preparation and will be adding it to our collections when it is published.

Katharine Dicks

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s