This interdisciplinary project takes a novel socio-legal approach to the history of colonialism by analysing the everyday interaction between an Asian society and an expanding European bureaucracy. It focuses on how ordinary people in Sri Lanka experienced and navigated normative institutions of taxation, legal action and religion that were set up by the Dutch East India Company (VOC). These institutions were created by the Dutch for social control and revenue extraction but functioned simultaneously as sites of mediation and conflict resolution.
This project looks at the function of these institutions in Sri Lankan society from the inside. The meticulous Dutch bureaucracy produced census registers, church and judicial records that are unparalleled in their degree of detail compared to other eighteenth-century colonial empires. This unique material makes it possible for historians to capture everyday colonialism: while the serial nature of the sources allows for structural analysis of the people involved and the institutions at work, the rich data at the individual and family level enables a microanalysis of the indigenous experience. The detailed records of registration and dispute resolution reveal how colonialism could penetrate the household. By foregrounding everyday entanglements and plural practices this project turns the institutions inside out and develops a unique view of the lived experience of Dutch colonialism.
Recently, a spin-off project was awarded a Shared Cultural Heritage grant by DutchCulture: 'Towards a Virtual Slave Island (Kompannavidiya). Contested Space and Everyday Life in Colombo, ca. 1700 - present'. Through an online StoryMap, narratives and images from and about the neighbourhood's inhabitants from the 18th to 21st centuries will be made available for local citizens, heritage organisations and (Dutch) tourists.