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Disasters and Colonialism: coping strategies and risk management in 19th century Indonesia


Admission requirements

Good Dutch reading proficiency


In 1883 the vulcanic island Krakatoa exploded, causing two tsunamis and killing over 35.000 people in Java and Sumatra. It was for the first time that a disaster in Indonesia featured in the press worldwide and it was for the first time that funds were raised on a global scale for the victims of the disaster. In contemporary Indonesia disasters resulting from natural hazards such as earthquakes, vulcanic eruptions and floods occur relatively frequent and receive much attention by the world press. Data on disasters in Indonesia since the 1970s are easily available, but we do not know much of the early history of disasters in Indonesia. In this course we will start creating our own database of disasters in 19th century Indonesia by using the archives of the Ministerie der Koloniën.
The study of these 19th century disasters in Indonesia will be connected to the growing field of historical disaster studies. Apart from the reconstruction of disasters one of the aims of these studies is understanding in what way the experience of disasters have shaped pre-modern societies around the globe. In regions that experience repetitive disasters one can expect societies to have taken organisational measures of disaster management. In our Indonesian case studies we will be dealing with two major questions: what were the existing coping strategies in Indonesian society? and in what way did the expanding colonial state and society respond to the disasters?

Course objectives

The students will develop a good insight in the central problems and debates in the field of historical disaster studies and at the same time expand their knowledge on the history of 19th century (colonial) Indonesia. They will learn how to conduct research in archival sources and to connect their findings in the archives to historiographic debates in the secondary literature. They are expected to present their findings in an oral presentation and in a paper in which they define a clear problem and develop a well-structured and well supported argument.


See course-schedule

Mode of instruction

Research seminar

Assessment method

  • Entry test

  • Presentations in class

  • 8000 word research paper


Reading list

(not yet complete)

  • Christof Mauch and Christian Pfister (red), Natural disasters, cultural responses. Case studies toward a global environmental history. Lexington books, Plymouth; 2009.

  • Selected articles from: Susanna Hoffmann and Anthony Oliver-Smith (eds), Catastrophe and culture: the anthropology of disaster (Santa Fe and Oxford 2002)


See enrolment-procedure

Contact information