Decolonizing Europe

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.

Session 14 July to 18 July 2020
Course levelMaster, open to PhD staff and professionals
Co-ordinating lecturers                
Prof. Susan Legêne, Prof. Anthony Bogues, Prof. dr Wayne Modest
Other lecturersDr. Dienke Hondius, Dr. Judy Jaffe-Schagen and guest lecturers
Forms of tuitionInteractive seminar, lectures, fieldwork
Forms of assessmentPresentation, short paper, peer review 
Credits3 ECTS
Contact hours45 hours
Tuition fee€1150, read more about what's included
Accommodation and social programme
How to apply
Find our application form here
Primarily PhD candidates, students and professionals in the field of Humanities and Social Sciences, although interested participants from other backgrounds are also welcome. Advanced Bachelor students (Honours students) who intend to write their thesis about the topic are welcome as well. The course is highly 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. You will get to know the city of Amsterdam as a meaningful location for in depth discussions of historical and contemporary dynamics of representation, memory and redress. Some of the key concepts to be discussed will be: 

  • Colonial modernity and Decolonization 
  • Racial Formation and modernity 
  • Nationalism, colonial empires and citizenship 
  • Archive, Heritage, Redress and Memory

The course focuses on the works of Caribbean and African diasporic thinkers: scholars, writers and artists who have engaged critically with European intellectual traditions, formulating distinctive positions that constitute an alternative genealogy for questions of citizenship and belonging in Europe. By honing in on their works, you gain a deeper understanding of the global interactions at key historical moments that shaped contemporary Europe. Recent developments in Amsterdam, a city deeply affected by the Holocaust, a long  colonial history, a complex migratory history and the Netherlands 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.

At the end of the course you will:
  • Be put in conversation with expert staff and peers in order to develop a comparative perspective on the changing European polity, its links to European colonial, postcolonial and migration histories, including the histories of slavery, and the notion of redress. 
  • Understand Amsterdam’s role as a major European urban centre, both historically and in the present, including issues of citizenship, belonging and legacies of the colonial past here.
  • Examine the impact of WWII and the Holocaust on the ways in which the colonial pasts are remembered and forgotten
  • Become more familiar with radical African/Caribbean diasporic thought as part of broader anticolonial and postcolonial critique, and how this thought has been important to refiguring notions of citizenship and belonging in Europe, as well as the case of Dutch Caribbean intellectuals and how their work relates to broader Black and Caribbean radical intellectual thought.
  • Meet (the works of) artists and other creative thinkers in the Netherlands whose work addresses contemporary Europe. 
  • Explore the notion of redress or repair in relation to the colonial past, focussing on the role of specific individuals, groups or institutions in practices of redress.
  • Reflect on theoretical concepts about reframing the archive, both within the city of Amsterdam and more generally, and become familiar with the methodology of various practices of alternative histories. 
  • 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 location. Several evening programs 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 require 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.
  • Prof. dr Ciraj Rassool teaches in the Department of History and directs the African Programme in Museum and Heritage Studies at the University of the Western Cape. He has served on the boards of the District Six Museum and Iziko Museums of South Africa (both of which he also chaired), as well as the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) and the National Heritage Council. the South African History Archive. He is a member of the Archaeology, Palaeontology, Meteorites, Heritage Objects and Burial Sites Permit Committee of SAHRA and chairs its Artworks Advisory Panel. He also serves on the Human Remains Repatriation Advisory Committee of the Department of Arts and Culture. Internationally, he chaired the scientific committee of the International Council of African Museums, and serves on the High Level Museums Advisory Committee of UNESCO as well as the Advisory Board of the Luschan Collection in Berlin. His most recent books are The Politics of Heritage in Africa: Economies, Histories, and Infrastructures (New York 2015, co-edited with Derek Peterson and Kodzo Gavua) and Unsettled History: Making South African Pasts (Ann Arbor 2017, with Leslie Witz, Gary Minkley)
Do you want to make the most out of your summer? You can combine this course with the following courses in session 2: