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Science and the Dutch Colonial Empire in the East, 1815-1850


Admission requirements

Ability to read handwritten Dutch is a necessity.


This research class focuses on the intricate relationship between science and Dutch colonialism in the early nineteenth century. At the core of this course lies the fieldwork of the Natuurkundige commissie voor Nederlandsch Indië which the Dutch king Willem I established in 1820. Until its dissolution in 1850, the members of the committee explored various parts of the Malay Archipelago: Java, New Guinea, Sumatra, Timor, Celebes, Ternate, etc. The aim of these survey operations was twofold. On the one hand, the naturalists had to serve the emerging colonial state which aimed at maximizing profits drawn from the region. On the other hand, the naturalists were supposed to act as collector for ‘s Rijksmuseum voor Natuurlijke Historie established in Leiden in 1820. The course wants to address and answer the following general research questions: 1. How did scientific inquiry and the establishment of a colonial empire (Nederlands-Indië) influence each other?
2. Which role did local intermediaries play?
3. How was the outcome of the fieldwork framed/presented in the Netherlands (publications, exhibitions, etc.)?

Preliminary course schedule:
Week I: Thematic introduction I, Prof. Leonard Blussé
Week II: Thematic introduction II, Andreas Weber
Week III: Methodological introduction – Science and Empire (Andreas Weber)
Week IV: Introduction to the archive (N.N.)
From week V onwards: students have to present their research results intermittently

Course objectives

  • To understand the interplay between (Dutch) colonialism and scientific inquiry in the early nineteenth century

  • To gain an overview of the research field science and empire

  • To enhance the ability to write and present a paper based on independent archival research, which should be framed by a self developed research question


See course-schedule

Mode of instruction

Lecture, tutorial. Students have to carry out archival research at the Museum for Natural History (NATURALIS), the National Herbarium, both in Leiden, or the National Archive in The Hague and have to discuss their results in class.

Assessment method

Oral presentation and written research paper based on archival research in Dutch language archives. Attendance and active participation in the discussions in class is obligatory.



Reading list

A reader with detailed ‘reading’ instructions will be provided in advance


See enrolment-procedure. Maximum: 10 students

Contact information

prof. dr. JJ.L. Blusse A. Weber, MA