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Historian Gert Oostindie the new Cleveringa Professor

Gert Oostindie, Emeritus Professor of Colonial and Postcolonial History, is this year’s Cleveringa Professor at Leiden University. He was appointed by the University on 4 October. In his inaugural lecture on 24 November, entitled Courage and Disregard, he will talk about (academic) freedom in relation to colonial and university history.

Oostindie (1955) will hold this chair for the coming year. He says: ‘I am immensely honoured by this appointment. Cleveringa’s courage in 1940 was exemplary and it continues to be an inspiration, to me as well. And of course “Bastion of Freedom” is not only a nice epithet for Leiden University but also a powerful ideal that fits perfectly with the requirements for academic integrity. That is what Cleveringa and a few other Leiden professors stood up for in 1940.’

Gert Oostindie

He continues: ‘But where did the University stand when it came to the freedom of others, far away in the colonies? That question arose again as early as 1945, but few at the University had the courage to swim against the current; the majority by far shared the broad national disregard for Indonesian nationalism. That disregard had deep roots in colonial history, a history in which Leiden University too had few courageous dissenters, whether on slavery or colonialism in a general sense. That is what I am going to talk about on 24 November.’

Gert Oostindie became head of the Caribbean Studies Department at the Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde / Royal Netherlands Institute for Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV-KNAW) in 1983 and was appointed director of the institute in Leiden in 2000. He was also Professor of Colonial and Postcolonial History at Leiden University from 2006 to 2021 and Professor of Anthropology and Comparative Sociology of the Caribbean at Utrecht University from 1993 to 2006.  

The Cleveringa Lecture will be held on Thursday 24 November from 16.00 to 17.00 at the Academy Building, Rapenburg 73 in Leiden. The lecture can also be watched online (live) that afternoon at universiteitleiden.nl 

Every year on (or around) 26 November, the University commemorates the 1940 protest speech by Leiden law professor Rudolph Cleveringa. On that day, Cleveringa spoke out in a public lecture against the dismissal of his Jewish colleague Eduard Meijers. After his speech, Cleveringa was arrested by the German occupiers and Meijers was deported first to Westerbork and then to Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he would survive the war. Other Leiden professors such as law professor Ben Telders, physician Ton Barge and theologian Lambert van Holk also openly protested against the Nazis. Of these professors, Telders did not survive the war. The Cleveringa Chair is a one-year rotating chair that symbolises the importance of free speech and the courage to stand up to occupiers. A motto that suits the University (Bulwark of Freedom) like no other. Every year, the university commemorates the victims of the Second World War – at least 663 students, staff and alumni lost their lives.

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