An Undigested Past: The Netherlands and Its Colonial History

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The history of the Netherlands and its predecessor, the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, is permeated with violence, looting and inequality, both in the country itself and on the world stage. In that respect, the history of the Netherlands differs little from that of other countries – although for many years, the country was able to play a role that
was disproportionate to its geographical and demographic size. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Republic’s semi-public companies built up a powerful trading empire stretching from Japan to South Africa and North America. This empire, which took the form of a network of controlled trade routes, including the transatlantic slave trade, rested primarily on treaties, fortifications and military interventions. Until the end of the eighteenth century, the establishment of settlements such as those in New Amsterdam, Cape Town and Batavia, was secondary, albeit sometimes instrumental. This changed only after the Napoleonic era, when the state took a leading role in the Netherlands too. At that time, the most important goal was the subjugation of the enormous archipelago in South East Asia, the “Dutch East Indies”; a process of colonisation accompanied by extreme violence; just as decolonisation in 1945-1949 would go hand in hand with systematic violence. It is precisely these pages of the national past that have proved resistant to becoming part of the dominant historical image, and thus also the self-image of the Netherlands. In the chapter, I address this problematic relationship with history: Dutch colonialism, especially in South East Asia, as an unassimilated past.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncounters with Troubled Pasts in Contemporary Dutch and Greek Historiography
EditorsPhilip Carabott, Willem W. Ledeboer
Place of PublicationLeiden
PublisherSidestone Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)978-94-6426-178-3
ISBN (Print)978-94-6426-176-9
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • memory
  • colonialism
  • netherlands
  • politics of memory
  • nostalgia
  • Extreme violence


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