Decolonizing Europe: History, Memory, Redress

With the Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice at Brown University
Deepen your understanding of decolonization histories, legacies of colonialism and racism; gain new insights into how European societies grapple with their histories of genocide and their colonial pasts, as well as the significance of this past for the contemporary world. The course will advance your knowledge of black critical  thought and its resonance in art and heritage politics as well as explore decolonial museum practices. It invites you to connect your own projects to those of the other participants and teaching staff. You will get to better understand Amsterdam as a site where the colonial past remains visible and its representation and memory continues to be contested.
Course levelMaster/PhD/Professionals
Session 1
4 July to 18 July 2020
Recommended course combination
Session 2: African Christianity and Global Culture, Amsterdam in Global Capitalism: 1500-present, Discover the Dutch: Language and Culture
Co-ordinating lecturersProf. Susan Legêne and Prof. Anthony Bogues, Prof. dr Wayne Modest
Other lecturersDr Dienke Hondius, Dr Judy Jaffe-Schagen and guest lecturers
Form(s) of tuitionInteractive seminar, lectures, fieldwork
Form(s) of assessmentPresentation, short paper, peer review 
3 credits
Contact hours45
Tuition fee€1150, read more about what's included.
Primarily PhD candidates, MA students and professionals in the field of Humanities and Social Sciences, Practitioners in museums and the art sector as well as  the Media are invited to apply as well as advanced  Bachelor students (Honours students) who intend to write their thesis. The course is highly reading  intensive and demands active participation and strong motivation. The topic of ‘Decolonizing Europe’ requires a multi-disciplinary approach, so we welcome the input of participants with a wide variety of backgrounds. If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please let us know.

‘Decolonizing Europe’ takes a fresh approach to current debates surrounding notions of citizenship, belonging and the colonial past within postcolonial, post-WWII and post-Cold War Europe.  Strongly embedded in histories of critical thought, museology, and heritage studies, it also benefits from the location of the city of Amsterdam, as a meaningful location for in-depth discussions of the dynamics of history, memory, representation and redress. Some of the key concepts to be discussed will be:
•    Colonial modernity and decolonization
•    Humans, racial formation and classification
•    Colonial empires, citizenship and belonging
•    Archives, objects and art
•    Redress and memory

In terms of genealogies of critical thought, the course focuses on the works of Caribbean and African diasporic thinkers: scholars, writers and artists who have engaged critically with European intellectual traditions. We explore how they formulated distinctive positions that inform current museological, artistic and academic practices related to questions of citizenship and belonging in Europe. By honing in on their works, and relating it to your own research projects, you will gain a deeper historical understanding of the global interactions that shaped contemporary societies. Recent developments in Amsterdam, a city deeply affected by the Holocaust, a long  colonial history, a complex migratory history and the Dutch relationship with other difficult pasts, are explored in a program full of engaging lectures and discussions.

Active participation is an important aspect of this course. In both plenary and workshop sessions, you will engage in critical discussions with your peers and expert staff on Europe’s colonial legacies, focusing specifically on archives and museums. We will explore some of the critical debates in the history of thought, the trans-Atlantic  slave trade, enslavement and colonialism, post-colonial and labour migration, urban identities, race and “post-racialism”, anti-Semitism,  diaspora, citizenship and belonging. The course seeks to provide alternative histories, and present different archives as ways to think about the past and the present. The programme will enable you to work on your own ongoing project and receive feedback from staff and peers. 

At the end of the course you will:
•    Have developed a comparative perspective on changing European polities, and their links to European colonial, postcolonial and migration histories, including the histories of slavery.
•    Understand Amsterdam’s role as a major European urban centre, both historically and in the present, including  contemporary local issues of citizenship, belonging and legacies of the colonial past.
•    Understand the ways in which colonial pasts are remembered and forgotten
•    Be familiar with radical African and (Dutch) Caribbean diasporic thought and creative practice as part of broader anticolonial and postcolonial critique, and how this has been important to refiguring notions of citizenship and belonging in Europe
•    Understand the notion of redress or repair in relation to the colonial past, and the role of specific individuals, groups or institutions in practices of redress.
•    Be familiar with theoretical concepts that involve reframing the archive, both within the city of Amsterdam and more generally, and with the methodology of various practices of alternative histories.
A concrete output of the course might be a revised and improved position paper, book chapter, or article submitted before the start and presented/discussed over the two weeks. You get feedback on your own PhD or MA research project and are encouraged to strengthen your international network of peers.

Visits to relevant locations like the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, Museum Volkenkunde (National Museum of Ethnology) in Leiden and the Black Archives, Amsterdam and the Black Heritage Amsterdam Tour. The programme includes fieldwork trips to relevant neighbourhoods in Amsterdam, with panel discussions at locations. Several evening programmes are included.
In addition to general readings (Stuart Hall, Paul Gilroy, Aimé Césaire, Elazar Barkan, Elizabeth Buettner, Ann Rigney) to establish common ground before the start of the course, each day of the first week will involve the reading of some key papers. Texts and other resources, like a methodological tool kit for analyzing exhibitions, will be provided at the start of the course. Additional course readings may be proposed in interaction with the developments in  the first week and the research projects by the participants.

Decolonizing Europe is offered jointly by the Global History, Heritage and Memory programme at VU University Amsterdam and the Center for Slavery and Justice at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Its co-organizer is the Research Center for Material Culture of the Dutch National Museum of World Cultures.

  • Prof. dr Anthony Bogues is Asa Messer Professor of Humanities and Critical Theory and Director of the Center for the Study of Slavery & Justice at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
  • Prof. dr. Wayne Modest is professor of Material Culture and Critical Heritage Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and Director of the Research Center for Material Culture, National Museum of World Cultures
  • Prof. dr. Susan Legêne is Professor of Political History at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, specialized in colonialism, decolonization and nation building
  • Dr. Dienke Hondius is project leader of the Mapping Slavery programme and Mapping Hiding Places programme at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
  • Dr. Judy Schagen (CLUE+ research centre for Culture, History and Heritage) specializes in multidirectional memory and national belonging.
  • Other lecturers, discussants and panellists will be invited; information follows.
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