Universiteit Leiden

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Students Sander, Linde and Melle create an online exhibition for the University Library

With a recently published major research project and an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum, the struggle for independence in Indonesia has been thrusted back into the spotlight. Leiden University is devoting attention to this topic as well. History students Sander van der Horst and Melle van Maanen joined by Dutch Literature and Culture student Linde Lammers created an online exhibition for the University Library.

Sander van der Horst

The exhibition is based on material from the Special Collections of the University Library. The Special Collections also contain a lot of archive material from the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV-KNAW). The three students were initially asked to create an inventory on all the sources on the Indonesian war of independence available in the archive, so that researchers could use it more effectively. ‘it was quite challenging, because there was a lot of material. A lot fell into the category of “dry official documents,” but some materials were very interesting,' says Sander.

Distilling stories

From these interesting sources, the students selected which material to use for a catalogue and an online exhibition of the University Library. In museums, you look at what story you want to tell and what objects you can find in order to reach that goal,' Melle says. ‘Here it was the other way round: "OK, this is the collection, what stories can you distil from it?" That was a very nice way of viewing this collection.'

Melle van Maanen

Under the guidance of professor emeritus and former director of KITLV Gert Oostindie, the students puzzled with the various objects they found. We looked at what pieces from the collection spoke to us, what themes they would fit best and what gaps we still had to fill after that,' says Linde. On top of that, we all had our own things to focus on. Sander was very taken by the photos, I found it very interesting to look at propaganda material and when Melle joined us, Gert pointed out to us that there was also an entire interview archive.

Doing justice to different perspectives

That interview archive proved to be an integral part of the solution to one of the most important things the exhibition was still missing: the Indonesian perspective. Melle, Sander and Linde wanted to shed light on the events in Indonesia from various angles, but most sources were drafted from the perspective of the Dutch or were intended as Indonesian propaganda material. 'In the Netherlands and other colonial countries there are almost exclusively colonial sources,' Melle explains. That is why the oral history collection was so important. Photos and propaganda often aim to mobilise people, whereas a spoken interview gives you a very personal insight into how major events affected individual people. This allowed us to make the exhibition a bit more balanced.'

Linde Lammers

‘We were very aware of the fact that we were three white students in the Netherlands about to dig through this collection,' Linde adds. ‘That's why it was great to work with researcher Muhammad Yuanda Zara. He has a PhD on propaganda material used during the Indonesian war of independence. He selected the Indonesian propaganda material that was eventually included in the exhibition and wrote the accompanying texts, but he also pointed out things to us that we had never seen. That certainly helped to make the exhibition more nuanced.'

View online from Indonesia

‘The exhibition is not only on display in the Netherlands. The exhibition can be viewed online from Indonesia. We have collaborated with the Indonesian website Historia,' explains Sander. ‘By showing the exhibition on this website, we were able to make sure that it has visibility in Indonesia as well. There are millions of people there who frequent this website, so we hope that it will catch on there as well and that it might spark a conversation, however difficult that may be.’

Sander van der Horst is doing the Master’s Colonial and Global History at the University of Leiden and works for newspaper Het Parool. He wrote his master's thesis on anti-colonial movements in the Netherlands during the interwar period. He is currently doing an exchange at the Université Paris 8 in Saint-Denis.

Linde Lammers is a ResMA student in Dutch literature and culture at Utrecht University, where she is currently writing her thesis on the representation of the Indonesian war of independence in recent cultural material.

Melle van Maanen completed the Master’s Colonial and Global History at the University of Leiden. He is now working as a junior curator at Museum het Schip on an exhibition about Indonesian influences on the Amsterdam School movement.

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