State archivist Evert van Laar, who passed away last year, amassed a personal collection of books and sources about Suriname throughout his lifetime. This collection consists of 43 boxes, containing around 5,000 books, brochures and newspapers about Suriname, and a comprehensive overview of all the books and magazines on Suriname published in the Netherlands and Suriname between around 1965 and 2010.
Van Laar was like an uncle to Nijmegen resident Denise Telgt. Her Surinamese father, who came to the Netherlands to study in 1963, was friends with Van Laar. ‘Thanks to his influence, my father became an archivist too, and eventually the national archivist in Suriname,’ she says. ‘Uncle Evert stayed with my Suriname family on all his trips to Suriname. His collection of everything to do with Suriname started around then.’
When Van Laar learned he would die in the foreseeable future, Telgt got in touch with Radboud historian Coen van Galen on his behalf. Van Galen has been working on making Surinamese slave registers public in recent years. The former state archivist then decided to donate the collection to Radboud University through Van Galen.
‘The collection contains unique pieces that can provide more insight into Surinamese society over the last century,’ according to Van Galen. ‘For instance, Van Laar had all manner of brochures in which occupational groups, including bakers and milkmen, wrote about how independence had affected their professions.’ This collection focuses on the period between 1970 and 1990, when Suriname gained independence and underwent a coup d’état. It is also the period during which lots of people from Suriname came to the Netherlands. A lot of material in the collection is about both Suriname itself and the Surinamese community in the Netherlands.
Tough to consult
After receiving the collection, Nijmegen University Library decided to donate it to the Anton de Kom University Library in Suriname. ‘It turned out that we already have some of the pieces in Nijmegen,’ Van Galen explains. ‘If we included these sources into Radboud University’s collection, they would have to be split up. It would be a pity: it would be much better if everything could remain together. The most important thing is that this way they can benefit researchers in Suriname itself, where consulting these works is often quite difficult. The sources are particularly interesting for history students and for students in teacher training study programmes for history and social studies in Suriname.’
Denise Telgt - who worked in Suriname for a time as an internist-infectiologist - has arranged the shipment of the collection together with the university in Paramaribo. It will be shipped this week in a climate-controlled container. ‘I’m happy that the collection is going to end up in the right hands,’ she says. ‘We’re still going to raise money to improve the climate control in the library there because of the humid climate but, for now, the documents will be in a good place.’