The Lifeways of Enslaved People in Curaçao, St Eustatius, and St Martin

In recent years, archaeologists have demonstrated that they can help to deconstruct dominant heritage narratives and develop new ones which are more nuanced and sensitive to both past and present stakeholder and subaltern communities. In this study, material culture from excavated enslaved villages, human remains from excavated enslaved cemeteries, and oral histories from participant interviews, were used to construct alternative narratives of the lifeways of enslaved people on the Dutch Caribbean islands of Curaçao, St Eustatius, and St Maarten/St Martin. The use of qualitative data in a thematic analysis facilitated nuanced understandings of many aspects of enslaved lifeways and allowed comparisons to be made between the islands and between the various datasets as well as between the study area and other regions of the Caribbean and the wider Americas. On each island, the research provided a perspective lacking in the existing literature: in St Maarten/St Martin the evidence indicated that enslaved people here had highly complex spiritual, cultural, and communal lifeways which were intricately linked with the island landscape; in St Eustatius the evidence indicated that enslaved people experienced high levels of stress despite periods of economic and material wealth; and in Curaçao the evidence indicated that the social structures of Atlantic slavery persisted well into the 20th century. Overall, the study demonstrates that narratives describing slavery in the Dutch Caribbean as ‘mild’ have neglected many of the physical and psychological aspects of enslavement for which there is ample evidence. The new narrative presented here is therefore important for our understanding of Dutch Caribbean heritage and structures of modern slavery, the development of island identities, and positive social and political change.

And yet different

Zusters van Liefde van Onze Lieve Vrouw, Moeder van Barmhartigheid 1960/2000

A. van der Veen, D. Verhoeven
Uitgeverij Verloren b.v., 2005

ISBN: 9789065508683


Nuns in the turbulent 1960s and beyond, that was the subject of this historical study. On the basis of archive material, but especially on the basis of many conversations with sisters, we looked for essential changes as well as constants in a congregation more than a century and a half old.


A wave of renewal rolled through Western society in the 1960s, including the Catholic churches and monasteries. Just about everything changed in the lives of monastics: their work, their way of life, their appearance and how they interacted with each other and others. Many dropped out, others developed a new way of being religious within monastic life. This book shows how this process of change took place among the ‘Sisters of Tilburg’, as they are popularly known. They form the largest Dutch sister congregation with branches in more than ten countries, spread over four continents. Based on archive research and many interviews, a varied picture emerged: of joy over new opportunities, of pain over the loss of traditions, of uncertainty about the new course, but above all of the struggle to remain united as a group while allowing members to be different.

Historical ecology of the Limburg Kempen

Bijdrage tot de historische ecologie van de Limburgse Kempen (1910-1950) : tweehonderd gesprekken samengevat

Uitgever: Stichting Natuurpublicaties Limburg
ISBN: 9789074508087

In the Belgian-Limburg Kempen region, Joël Burny asked older residents about how they interacted with their landscape in the first half of the 20th century. His research shows that traditional insights often do not hold true for this specific area. The new insights should provide more guidance in determining the current form of management, which should be based much more on historically accurate references.


The book is a summary of a large series of interviews conducted with 96 elderly residents in the Belgian-Limburg Kempen region. These interviews covered the traditional use of heathland and stream valley grasslands, providing a picture of how the landscape functioned in the early 20th century. This is the period before the mechanisation of agriculture and before the large-scale use of nitrogen-rich manure.

The interviews revealed details of the historical use of the landscape that would otherwise have been lost. These include work done by farmers in the first half of the 20th century related to watercourses, stream valley grasslands, liquid meadows, dry and wet heaths and fish ponds.

Polish liberators

De eerste divisie van de Poolse divisie worden ingehaald op 27 oktober in Gilze. Rijen werd een dag later bevrijd. © Heemkring Molenheide

For an oral history project with MA students at EUR, Iwona Gusc is looking for children of Polish liberators.


They are looking for volunteers to share with them the story of growing up in post-war Netherlands. What was it like to be a child of a Polish soldier?


Interviews will be scheduled during (late) September and October.

Send an email to: gusc(at)

Children’s village Neerbosch


The start of research into the history of youth care, lies in the anniversary book on the Neerbosch Children’s Village. For that project, Anton van Renssen made eight oral-history interviews on video with former residents of the Children’s Village.

Het wezendorp Neerbosch

De protestants-christelijke weesinrichting Neerbosch en haar stichter Johannes van ‘t Lindenhout (1863-1903)

Anton van Renssen

ISBN: 9789492055156

In 1863, evangelist Johannes van ‘t Lindenhout founded an orphanage in a former inn in Nijmegen. In 30 years, his initiative grew in the polders outside the city into an orphan village with over 50 hectares of land, 41 buildings and over 1,100 residents. And that entirely based on donations from private individuals, municipal poor relief associations and church deaconies. This study describes the genesis of this orphan village, the largest residential institution in the Netherlands in the second half of the nineteenth century. Much attention is paid to the Protestant-Christian signature of the orphanage and how this was reflected in the educational principles of Van ‘t Lindenhout and in the daily upbringing of the children.

Overijsselians in the East

Stichting IJsselacademie

Interviewer: Ewout van der Horst



Under the banner of the national research programme Decolonisation, violence and war. Indonesia 1945-1950, the IJsselacademie Foundation made an appeal in January 2018 for eyewitnesses of this period in Overijssel to tell their stories. A dozen people responded, mostly children of Dutch veterans who saw their chance to record dad’s story once and for all.


No applications from Dutch East Indies veterans were received, giving the research a Dutch and military perspective. In the absence of applications from soldiers of the Salland volunteer battalion 1-11 RI and the Twente battalion 5-5 RI, with conscripts of the 1947 draft, a specific search was made for eyewitnesses of these army units. In the end, 12 veterans from Overijssel were interviewed. In addition, there was a circle interview with three veterans in Rijssen. Nine interviews were almost completely worked out. Besides six conscripts, these included two war volunteers and a Red Cross volunteer who worked on a hospital ship. All soldiers served on Java and spent some time at the front. One OVW member was also stationed in Sumatra.

Mama read Marx


Elke Weesje researched the experiences of those who, born between 1937-1952, grew up in a communist nest in the shadow of World War II and the Cold War. She makes clear the emotional rollercoaster in which communists and those close to them were caught, having first survived persecution during World War II, then enjoyed great popularity because of their consistent resistance, which, however, turned into aversion and suspicion within three years under the influence of the Cold War. With the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1956 as a tragic low point.


During her internship at the IISG, supervised by Margreet Schrevel, Weesjes came into contact with the history of Dutch communism and spoke to children who grew up in a communist family largely after World War II. She became fascinated by this second generation, which sought a path between the loyalty and admiration for their emotionally wounded communist parents, and the repulsion and hostility from society towards their parents that also radiated onto the children.


Weesje previously wrote an English-language dissertation in which she compared the experiences of the ‘cradle communist’, the children of communists in the Netherlands and Britain. Based on a series of interviews with 38 children of working-class rank-and-file members of the Dutch and British communist party. A relevant study that offers insight into how, in particular, the experiences of a Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, which never took place in England, influenced the different dealings with and positions of communists in both countries. Weesjes then decided to write a more accessible book, written in Dutch, in which she focused on the Dutch experience. This was a good choice, as it offers more space to place her interlocutors’ statements within their life stories and within the way communism was dealt with in the Netherlands during the Cold War.


Oral History offered her the opportunity to illuminate this history from a non-institutional perspective (of the child). Relevantly, after the first series of interviews, she returned to a number of interlocutors some 20 years later. She indicates that these then had more space or were better able to look back critically, although we don’t see much of that in her book. This is a shortcoming, as the book would have gained strength if Weesjes had mobilised more opposing voices from children of the time who – sooner or later – distanced themselves from communist ideology and criticised their communist parents’ upbringing.


Hindustani contract workers 1873-1920

Prof Chan E.S. Choenni has chronicled the history of Hindustani contract workers. Not only through extensive literature review and archival research, Choenni also gives an insight into the lives of the contract workers through oral history. For instance, he gives a vivid picture of recruitment and selection in India, transport to the port city of Calcutta/Kolkata and the journey overseas. He also describes the arrival in Suriname and the daily life of the contract workers on the plantations.

Sarnami Hindostani 1920-1960

Sarnami Hindostani 1920–1960: Worteling, identiteit en gemeenschapsvorming in Suriname, volume 1.

Gharietje G. Choenni & Chan E.S. Choenni

Amsterdam: KIT Publishers, 2012

The Lalla Rookh Diaspora Foundation published this book in order to rectify deficiencies in knowledge of the history of the Surinamese Hindustanis (East Indians). 

The book’s introductory chapter deals with the departure of the Hindustanis from India, their life on the plantations, their numerical growth, their progress between 1920 and 1960, and the development of Sarnámi (a linguistic variation of Hindi). A chapter entitled “Settling and taking root” then relates the developments that took place after the contract period, when the Hindustanis created small villages of their own near their rice fields. The hardships of agricultural life are delineated as well as the diligence and perseverance of the settlers. The next chapter is devoted to transport, recounting how after some time many Hindustanis became active as wagoners, truck drivers, and bus drivers. The fourth chapter deals with the differentiation that took place when the children of the paddy farmers became entrepreneurs and craftsmen and later also government officials.

Chapter 5 is about housing. It paints the development from the plantation barracks to the simple dwellings in the villages and finally to the magnificent city houses of Paramaribo. It also describes the medical care the Hindustanis received. Chapter 6 discusses developments in education. Here attention is paid to the deterioration of the position of women in the third generation in Suriname. The setback was halted when later generations of women became better educated. This chapter also addresses the position of homosexual men and lesbians. The last chapter, which focuses on family life, paints the development of the joint family as well as its disappearance after the World War II and discusses Hindustani clothing, jewels, tattoos, food, and identity markers.

These seven chapters alternate with literary portrayals of seven elderly persons, a number of whom now live in the Netherlands, who reminisce about their lives in Suriname in the past.

Eighty in-depth interviews with elderly Hindustanis living both in Suriname and in the Netherlands form the main source of this book. The data they provide are subsequently checked in other (mostly written) sources. A reasonable number of Hindustanis say, for example, that the East Indians never asked for help from governmental social security, but the archives of these institutions prove that this is an exaggeration (pp. 16–17). So, the oral information is not blindly accepted, but critically evaluated. Choenni and Choenni call their method triangulation, which means that they have tried to get a reliable image of the situation by consulting various kinds of sources. Therefore this study fits the recent trend among historians of giving attention to oral history as an important addition to the written sources composed mainly by the writing elite and by the people governing the country. One could say that oral history is the history of the oppressed, which certainly is something that pops up in the material of this book. It is full of stories about the hardships people suffered in India even before their transportation to the Caribbean, the oppression on the plantations, the poverty and lack of medical care in the first years on the plantations and in the new settlements, and the discrimination against Hindustanis by the other population groups of the country.

In spite of the book’s merits, its sloppy writing style causes many inaccuracies. For example, the authors write that Columbus discovered Suriname (p. 37), which is untrue. Or again, there are many spelling errors or strangely written Dutch words, such as Hinduïsme instead of hindoeïsme. Other errors could have been prevented if the necessary academic literature had been consulted; people with the title maharaj are said to be chattri’s (p. 645), while in reality they are Brahmans (Clarke 1967:178–80). And a description of the development of the Hindu literary tradition (p. 434) is colored by the views of some Hindu religious experts, but deviates from the findings of authoritative research on the subject. These errors reflect a failure to engage academic fields outside of the social sciences.

Women’s movement in Bonaire

The audiovisual materials will be permanently archived on Figshare/UvA


March 4th 2023, the finalization of the oral history project of the women’s movement in Bonaire was celebrated. This project was executed by Liliane de Geus and Judith Brekelmans in 2021-2022 and was mentored by Prof. dr. Rose Mary Allen, chair of Culture, Community and History at the University of Curacao.

The project is part of the capacity development activities of the NWO-funded project ‘Cultural Practices of Citizenship under Conditions of Fragmented Sovereignty: Gendered and Sexual Citizenship in Curaçao and Bonaire, 2017-2022 coordinated by Dr. Sruti Bala , Associate professor Theatre studies, University of Amsterdam’.

Twenty-eight persons were interviewed in total. The first group interviewed consisted of 14 persons who were older than 60 years, some of whom were members of the different women’s organizations and the Steering Committee, the umbrella women’s platform. Some of the women in this first group were not directly involved in a woman’s group but were women activists and groundbreakers in their own right in the areas of politics, the labour movement, social affairs, or culture and the arts. The second group consisted of women in the 50-60 age group, while the third group comprised women between the ages of 20 and 49, generally called young professionals. The youngest woman interviewed was 29 years old at the time, and the oldest was 92.


Preparing for a series of extensive oral history interviews on Bonaire to document the women’s movements and participation in the public sphere …. Rose Mary Allen with Jolanda Helmyer-Marsera