Tropenmuseum initiative makes the history of slavery palpable
The Tropenmuseum is developing a digital monument with the names of over 200,000 people who were enslaved during the colonial period. The monument is a tribute to the enslaved people in Suriname, Curaçao, and Indonesia and will be at the heart of the exhibition Our Colonial Heritage. This is the new permanent exhibition at the Tropenmuseum, opening on 23 June. The large exhibition (1200 m2) on the museum's first floor deals with the Dutch colonial past and how its effects are still felt today.
The digital monument contains the details of hundreds of thousands of enslaved people. Their names are shown alongside their mutual relationships, supplemented with personal stories. The Tropenmuseum uses this new way of studying a colonial source in which people were listed as possessions to visualise a part of history that has long remained invisible. The database is searchable in multiple ways.
At its opening, the monument will contain close to 200,000 names: only a fraction of the total number of enslaved people. New research can be added later, and so, the monument of names will continue to grow. The history of slavery in Indonesia, in particular, was neglected for the longest time. In an effort to change this, the Museum of World Cultures is participating in several initiatives on this topic.
The monument can be searched in multiple ways and consists of two parts: touchscreens and a large projection. The projection is made up of a multitude of names. These can be researched through the touchscreens. By clicking on any name, additional information about that person will pop up. Lines will appear in the projection, showing the names of their known relations. Perhaps a parent or a child, or people who lived on the same plantation. In this way, the monument visualises the social connections between the enslaved people. For despite all attempts to dehumanise them, the enslaved people were part of a network of human relationships. We hope that this monument will restore their humanity and make it easier to relate to their lives.
Our Colonial Legacy
On 23 June 2022, the Tropenmuseum will launch its new permanent exhibition, Our Colonial Heritage. The exhibition shows how colonialism shaped the world we live in and how people endured it. Our Colonial Heritage is the culmination of years of renovation and covers 1,200 square metres. By presenting our colonial past as unfinished business, the Tropenmuseum means to contribute to the public debate and to a more just society. The exhibition will stay in place for about seven years. During this period, the Tropenmuseum will host temporary exhibitions addressing these themes from different angles.
The Digital Names Monument is an initiative of the Tropenmuseum. Studio Bertels was in charge of the concept, design, and technology. The content comes from research carried out by Alicia Schrikker, Pouwel van Schooten, and Karwan Fatah-Black of Leiden University.
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More information about Our Colonial Heritage can be found here.
Image material can be downloaded free of rights; please credit Studio Bertels.