Descartes Centre Colloquium with Jacob Boersema

Portret Jacob Boersema
Jacob Boersema

How to tell the history of the Dutch Empire, Science and Racism?

Despite its global history of empire, colonialism and slavery, the story of Dutch racism has never been told. At home and abroad, the Dutch Empire was characterized by many forms of racism: anti-black racism and antisemitism but also islamophobia and Sinophobia. One way to tell this story is through the eyes of Dutch scientists, who intellectually and practically shaped this racist history. They did so not just through their ideas and science of race but also through their world-making visions and real-world political projects.

The story I tell is of Dutch intellectuals who theorized, designed, and executed racial projects that re-imagined and re-ordered the people and places of the Dutch empire. From South Africa to Java, they understood African and Asian people as tools and resources for their political, economic, and religious imperial projects. In the process, these Dutch scientists promoted ideas about who Dutch people were and how the Dutch must understand, socially engineer, and dominate people of color in this world. These scientists shaped a global empire in which it greatly mattered who you were, what you believed or what you looked like.

In this lecture, I will highlight the thinking and work of three Dutch intellectuals at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th Century: Petrus Camper (1722-1789), Gijsbert Karel Hogendorp (1762-1834), and Johannes Van den Bosch (1780-1844). I explore how to understand their work in relationship to the history of racial science, racial liberalism, and racial capitalism. And I ask what their racial projects tell us about the deep historical ties between empire, science and racism.

Elian Schure Freudenthal Institute, Utrecht University
Abigail Nieves Delgado, Freudenthal Institute, Utrecht University
Members of NWO/Vidi project “Microbiome research and race in the 'Local South".” Freudenthal Institute, Utrecht University

About the speaker
Jacob Boersema teaches at New York University and is a Fellow at the Cultural Sociology Center at Yale University. He is a sociologist and historian who does research on race and racism in the US, Europe and South Africa. He obtained his PhD at the University of Amsterdam and previously was a postdoc at Rutgers University and a lecturer at Columbia University. This Spring his first book was published: Can We Unlearn Racism? What South Africa Teaches Us About Whiteness with Stanford University Press. He is currently working on a new book on the history of Dutch racism.

Start date and time
End date and time
Drift 21, room 0.06 (access via library at Drift 27)
Entrance fee