“Recent advice on the history of the former Dutch East Indies should be more broadly applied”

Portret van een opperkoopman van de VOC, met Batavia op de achtergrond (ca. 1653). Bron: Rijksmuseum (SK-A-2350)
Portrait of a VOC chief merchant, with the former Batavia in the background (c. 1653)

‘How can the knowledge about, understanding of and insight into the history of “the former Dutch East Indies” be anchored in society?’ Commissioned by the State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport, the committee Strengthening Knowledge of History of the Former Dutch East Indies studied this question. The results were recently presented to the cabinet in a report. It is an important start, assistant professor and committee member Hanneke Tuithof says, but now it’s time to follow through.

Advices on the history of the former Dutch East Indies

Knowledge about the colonial history of the former Dutch East Indies should be better anchored, both in education and beyond. That, in short, is the main advice of the research committee, which was led by former minister Jet Bussemaker. “This knowledge is crucial to understanding where we come from as a country and society, who we are and how we relate to each other and others,” the report reads.

Dr. Hanneke Tuithof. Foto: Babet Hogervorst
Dr. Hanneke Tuithof. Foto: Babet Hogervorst

The colonial history must therefore be given a more prominent place in our collective memory, the committee finds. This should be done through, among other things, more cooperation and knowledge gathering and the sustainable preservation of the accumulated knowledge, opening up new memorials in public spaces, and making collections and archives accessible and visible.

With regard to education, the committee advises that knowledge about the colonial past should be included in its core objectives, core objective teams and subject renewal committees should be established, and an educational platform should be set up to make knowledge and sources more accessible to both teachers and students.

Renewal of the history curriculum

“In our study, we were always very conscious of the context of the people we saw during interviews, sounding board groups, and the conference we organised, and also of the context in which our advice should have a place,” Tuithof says. “It was clear the colonial past should be given a more prominent place. In public spaces, museums, and in education.”

Our advice is broadly applicable, on all current, sensitive issues.

Education is Tuithof’s area of expertise. In the role of history subject didactician, she was involved in the history examination programme for havo and vwo classes and the recalibration of the Canon of the Netherlands. She points out that the current history curriculum is already 22 years old and hopes that the government will soon decide to revamp it.

“There should be professional learning communities so that we can create good and multi-voiced teaching materials. We can then also figure out how to have even better pedagogically and subject-didactically sound conversations with students. But unfortunately, history is not yet up for renewal in the current curriculum.”

Broadly applicable

As far as Tuithof is concerned it’s best to go the extra mile. “The Bussemaker committee was asked to incorporate knowledge about the Dutch East Indies/Indonesia colonial past specifically, but I would like to draw it more widely. The advice we give is broadly applicable: not only on the colonial past, but also on all current, sensitive topics.”

De Volkskrant (8 februari 2023)
Trouw (8 februari 2023)
Trajectum (9 februari 2023)