Making the colonial child visible. Children moving between Indo-European and local cultures on Netherlands New Guinea (1905-1962)


Marleen Reichgelt (PhD Candidate)

Time frame

September 2017 – September 2022

Project description

Over the last two decades, journalists, politicians, and historians have increasingly scrutinised the position of children in colonial contexts. Following the 1997 'Stolen Children' National Inquiry in Australia, historical research has disclosed practices in which indigenous and mix-raced children were removed from their families to be ‘civilised’ and raised to Euro-American standards. In Dutch colonies too, children functioned as instruments of socio-political change.

Indigenous children were not just passive objects of colonial policies. Recent scholarship has shifted from viewing colonisation as a one-way process to becoming aware of the complex processes of interaction between colonial actors. The dynamic engagements between missionaries and children were defined by mutual dependence and entanglement.

This PhD project will examine how the Catholic mission addressed and engaged local children in the ‘civilising’ project on Netherlands New Guinea between 1905 and 1962 and what kinds of agency children developed in response. Practices shaped by encounters, interactions, and negotiations are analysed using a combination of textual and visual sources.

The research project is part of the research project 'Children as targets and tools. Colonial governance in missionary civilizing projects in the Indo-Pacific World (1870-1962)'.


Childhood, colonial history, photography, Catholic mission




Marleen Reichgelt,