God dekoloniseert niet. Een kritiek op de Nederlandse geschiedschrijving over de neergang van Nederlands-Indië en Nederlands Suriname


  • J. de Beus






God has nothing to do with decolonization: A criticism of Dutch historiography on the demise of the Dutch East Indies and Dutch Surinam
Inevitably, there is a moral side to decolonisation. In the Netherlands, the focus on this aspect has been encouraged by the culture of gospel preaching: that curious constant which permeates the history of the Netherlands. More specifically, however, we have identified an important trend stemming from the 1960s whereby many politicians and influential people placed pressure on historians to bear witness to this aspect. This fitted in with the general pattern of moralizing history, alongside tracing the history of morality. This jarred with the professional self-image of historians who, during the 1960s, had in fact shaken off the roles of moralist, educator of the common man and keeper of souls. Yet, generally speaking, the historiography of the colonies still has a touch of national self-purging about it: various authors still write about decolonization in a judgmental tone.

Despite the unmistakable scientific merits of this wave of Dutch East Indian studies and Surinam studies, the effect of this moralising is rather futile: it has not resulted in any great consensus of opinion, nor to any visible demonstration of being able to cope with the past or public reconciliation (as far as historical moralism is actually capable of achieving this). This is all the more reason for us to ask ourselves to explain why the art of moralising continues. The reasons for can be attributed to a variety of factors, partly of a professional nature and partly social. With respect to the former, this demonstrates a contrived battle between different schools of thought, a fixation on everything that is Dutch and a lack of interesting historiography from the Indonesian and Caribbean side.


As far as the latter is concerned, this centres around a fear of losing momentum in a society that is not retrospective, coupled with the post-colonial complex of awkwardness, shame and guilt. This fits in with the more general historical policy of governments: a cult of apologies, commemoration and compensation. In the Netherlands too this policy would greatly benefit from stronger and feistier politics and academic discussions and confrontations, as well as from a greater counterbalance of political parties, fora of historians and parliaments against the monopoly of those speaking on behalf of the victims. In this type of situation, historians might win back some of the ground that they now appear to have lost by delving more deeply into aspects of analytical ethics


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How to Cite

Beus, J. de. (2001). God dekoloniseert niet. Een kritiek op de Nederlandse geschiedschrijving over de neergang van Nederlands-Indië en Nederlands Suriname. BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, 116(3), 307–324. https://doi.org/10.18352/bmgn-lchr.5499