Revisioning Colonial Childhoods.

Tuesday 20 June 2023, 4:30 pm
PhD student
M.G.W. Reichgelt MA
prof. dr. G.A. Mak, prof. dr. M.E. Monteiro
Faculty of Arts

How can colonial historians make children more visible as acting persons? This question forms the starting point for Revisioning Colonial Childhoods, which examines the photographic archive of the Catholic mission in West Papua in the first half of the twentieth century, known at the time as Dutch New Guinea. 
Children are a population group that historians find difficult to examine. The general assumption is that most children of the past left very few direct traces in the historical archives. This is particularly true of the children of colonised populations. However, children form an undeniable presence in the aforementioned collection of approximately 1300 photographs, which were given more context with the help of diaries, letters, reports and publications. By analysing photographs as traces of events in which children themselves participated, they become sources through which their active role in colonial histories can be reconstructed. 
Four case studies show just how much missionaries depended on the skills, knowledge and networks of young Papuans. Children were valued for their flexibility, their ability to learn languages quickly and their ability to mediate between different social groups. All this made them particularly well-suited to intermediary positions in a wide range of networks. 
Revisioning Colonial Childhoods shows that photographs are a valuable resource for viewing young people and their life histories empathetically and raising new questions. This thesis also calls for analysing photographs from different perspectives, using different forms of historical and cultural knowledge. Dutch colonial photo collections should therefore be made more accessible to a wider audience. 
Marleen Reichgelt currently works as a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the Department of History, Art History and Antiquities at Radboud University. Her PhD research (2017-2022) examined an extensive collection of mission photographs as a source of information about the lives of children in West Papua in the early twentieth century. In addition to her research, she works as an archivist at the Heritage Centre for Dutch Monastic Life in Sint Agatha and as an editor at the Yearbook of Women's History. Marleen is interested in decolonising and improving access to heritage and archives and is currently developing new research plans about children as intermediaries in colonial histories and on the historical and cultural value of (colonial) photo collections.