‘Dutch national greatness’: toleration, democracy, work ethic, and the like – a Golden Century with a long after-story into the present. But by now the other side of the coin is also accepted – not as much in contemporary nation-branding, but certainly among historians. Thus the Golden Century also as an era of elite politics, pseudo-monarchy, imperfect religious toleration, and the beginnings of colonialism. Was there ever an age of innocence? Useful to first go another 150 years back in time, hence 1563, time of the beginnings of the fight against Spain, origins of the Dutch nation. Fragile narratives of national unity include clear allusions to colonialism, invariably critical – because the Spanish are colonial, and hence their victims, the Indians of the Americas, suffer the same fate as the ‘Dutch’. Hence narratives of solidarity. By 1713, all of that is lost. Heavy Dutch engagement in colonialism, in all continents, without even a need felt for justification. Slavery and the Atlantic slave trade have become widely accepted within a few decades. This is European world politics, and the Dutch Republic has no intention to lose opportunities. Whatever its real significance for the average Dutch person, liberty and civil rights certainly have become matters for the metropolis and the colonial elites only. It’s all about geopolitics and economics, just as it is for the other European powers. Dutch colonialism stands out for one feature: extreme lack of interest in cultural imperialism.
What does the colonial world look like in 1713, and where will it stand in 1863? What meaning did the Peace of Utrecht (1713) have in this long-term development? And how should we define the 1863 Netherlands and its relation to the colonies? And how did the Dutch nation relate to the colonial history and slavery since 1863? So how is the legacy of slavery remembered, in 2013?
The Colonial Legacy Conference examined the colonial and post-colonial heritage of the Treaty of Utrecht and assessed its legacy in contemporary scholarship on human trafficking, in the study of cultural memories of historical traumas, in practices of reconciliation and in popular culture.