Research School for Economic and Social History


29 - 30 August 2024
Wageningen University & Research (exact location tba)

Workshop ‘The Histories of (Post-)Colonial Universities in the Netherlands’ (WUR)

On 29 and 30 August 2024, the Workshop ‘The Histories of (Post-)Colonial Universities in the Netherlands’ will be held at Wageningen University & Research. This workshop and the keynote is made possible thanks to the generous funding of Wageningen University & Research.

The historiographies of universities, in the Netherlands and elsewhere, have so far remained focused on their institutional histories within the context of the nation state. At least some Dutch universities (Leiden, Utrecht, Delft and Wageningen to begin with) nevertheless functioned as institutions of higher learning for the colonial state in the 19th and 20th centuries, producing civil servants and experts who would develop colonial careers. Dutch universities also facilitated the training of indigenous elites. In the Dutch colonies itself European scientific methods and academic knowledge, moreover, was not passively adopted, but rather adapted and applied to existing traditions. Expertise that was gained during the colonial period, partly with the aid of these adaptations, generated lasting centers of global expertise in the Netherlands, thereby informing knowledge regimes for decades to come. Examples of this are the expertise on Asian history and culture in Leiden and on tropical agriculture in Wageningen, as well as companies that emerged from such knowledge hubs (Shell, Boskalis, Deltares and others).

This 2-day workshop therefore responds to that gap in our knowledge. The workshop will explore the colonial and postcolonial entanglements of higher education in the Netherlands, with room for comparative explorations focused on higher education across the global north and south, exploring parallels to and linkages with colonial centers of knowledge across empires and from the early-modern to the modern era. The aim is to bring together researchers and professionals already working on similar projects relating to the colonial and postcolonial histories of universities in the Netherlands, while also inviting new perspectives. The purpose is to create a forum for in-depth discussion amongst researchers and professionals working on the topic who may have not otherwise encountered one another. This is based on the observation that a number of universities in the Netherlands and elsewhere have now started to explore research into their colonial pasts, but, that, so-far there has been a lack of coordinated discussion on the topic within and between these universities.

The workshop aims to bridge studies on the history of knowledge production, colonial histories and the histories of universities in the Netherlands. The workshop also wants to contribute to a broader discussion about the role of universities in post-colonial societies, both in the Netherlands and elsewhere, including issues connected to racial discrimination, diversity and inclusion. For this reason, a number of the speakers will be invited. The keynote will be delivered jointly by Sabine Cadeau and Nicholas Bell-Romero, who both worked as research fellows at the University of Cambridge Legacies of Enslavement Inquiry.

The deadline for submitting a paper has passed on 19 January 2024.