While the UvA celebrated its 391st anniversary on 9 January, its predecessor Athenaeum Illustre was founded in 1632. This centuries-old history is reflected in various UvA buildings that date from the Dutch colonial era. The Oost-Indisch Huis, for example, was once an office of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). Yet too little is known about the role the UvA and its predecessors may have played in the country’s colonial past. This calls for research, says initiator and Central Diversity Officer at the UvA Machiel Keestra: ‘In 1632, Caspar Barleus praised the wealthy merchants who founded the Athenaeum Illustre because they were now going to combine their entrepreneurial zeal with knowledge and understanding. Their enterprises were undoubtedly connected to colonialism and slavery.’ He continues: ‘The City of Amsterdam and De Nederlandse Bank, among others, have already explored their own colonial histories. And there are currently a number of ongoing projects at the UvA that have to do with decolonialisation in the broader sense. This investigation into our own history is equally vital, so that we know the facts, can face the legacy of that history and can accept accountability.’
The research assignment will be delegated to an independent, renowned institution with expertise in the area of Dutch colonial history and the Netherlands’ role in the slave trade. A specific institution will be selected this spring. Two advisory committees will be established for the purposes of the research – social and academic – and these committees will include UvA experts.
The Faculty of Humanities (FGw) recently launched the public programme ‘Decolonial Dialogues@Humanities’. The room known as the ‘VOC-zaal’ in the Bushuis – named for the Directors of the Dutch East India Company – displays a historical reconstruction of the VOC’s past that was designed and created in the 1990s. In recent years, staff and students have become increasingly uncomfortable with how the colonial history of the Netherlands and Amsterdam is depicted and represented in this chamber. This led the Faculty to temporarily close the room (which until that time had served as a venue for meetings and diploma award ceremonies) in 2022. In 2023 it will be used for lectures, performances, recording podcasts and small exhibitions. Through open and inspiring cooperation with researchers and students, partner institutions and interested parties, this project aims to envision a future for the ‘VOC-zaal’ and decide how to reckon with the colonial history of the building itself.