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Swiss 'Tools of Empire'. A transnational history of mercenaries in the Dutch East Indies, 1814-1914

English title Swiss 'Tools of Empire'. A transnational history of mercenaries in the Dutch East Indies, 1814-1914
Applicant Schär Bernhard
Number 172613
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Geschichte der modernen Welt Institut für Geschichte ETH Zürich
Institution of higher education ETH Zurich - ETHZ
Main discipline General history (without pre-and early history)
Start/End 01.05.2017 - 30.04.2021
Approved amount 287'844.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
General history (without pre-and early history)
Swiss history

Keywords (7)

New Imperial History; Military History; Colonialism; Swiss History; Imperialism; Southeast Asian History; Dutch East Indies

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Between 1814 and 1914 around 7.600 Swiss Mercenaries fought for the Dutch Colonial Army (KNIL) in South East Asia. The KNIL recruited up to 40% of its European soldiers outside the Netherlands. In relation to the size of its population, Switzerland was one of the main suppliers of 'foreign' European troops to KNIL. So far, historians of Switzerland and the Dutch Colonies have hardly ever studied these Swiss 'living tools of empire' (Bossenbroek). This project puts these men on centre-stage, by examining them as agents of historical entanglements and asking: How did they help build the Dutch Empire in South East Asia, and how did their imperial careers shape 19th century Switzerland?
Lay summary

The aim of this research project, which is designed for four years, is firstly, to create a database with Swiss mercenaries from large yet hitherto unexplored holdings in the Swiss Federal Archives, and from Dutch Colonial Archives. From this database, patterns and changes with regard to the social and geographical origins of these men can be reconstructed, as well as regarding their theatres of deployment in the Dutch Indies. These insights prompt, secondly, inquiries into the structural causes and individual motivations to serve in the Indies, their actions and experiences there, as well as into their life and career trajectories as veterans in Switzerland or elsewhere. To this aim, the project shall collect additional source materials that have likewise remained largely unexplored: newspaper reports, government reports in cantonal and communal archives concerning the fate of Swiss KNIL veterans, and published as well as (mostly) unpublished veterans’ memoires, diaries, and letters. Insights into the local contexts of the Swiss contributions to colonial wars, 'punitive expeditions' and other military activities shall be examined in the colonial records held in the National Archives of the Republic of Indonesia (ANRI) in Jakarta, as well as with published Dutch Colonial Sources (e.g. the Koloniaal verslag). Thirdly, the project seeks to use these newly created source collections to examine entanglements created by some exceptionally well documented groups and individuals: How did they engage economically, culturally, socially, or sexually with societies in the Indies—and how did those experiences affect their later career trajectories in Switzerland or elsewhere?
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 06.06.2017

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Project partner

Publications

Publication
Introduction: The Dutch East Indies and Europe, ca. 1800-1930. An Empire of Demands and Opportunities
Schär Bernhard C. (2019), Introduction: The Dutch East Indies and Europe, ca. 1800-1930. An Empire of Demands and Opportunities, in BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, 134(3), 4-4.
Welcome to Hotel Helvetia! Friedrich Wüthrich’s Illicit Mercenary Trade Network for the Dutch East Indies, 1858-1890
Krauer Philipp (2019), Welcome to Hotel Helvetia! Friedrich Wüthrich’s Illicit Mercenary Trade Network for the Dutch East Indies, 1858-1890, in BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review, 134(3), 122-122.
Rösti und Revolutionen. Zur Postkolonialen Relektüre der Schweiz
SchärBernhard C. (2018), Rösti und Revolutionen. Zur Postkolonialen Relektüre der Schweiz, in Widerspruch, 72, 9-20.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Understanding Modern Switzerland Individual talk Colonial Mercenaries: Swiss military labour & the Dutch East Indies, 1848-1914, 27.11.2019 EPFL Lausanne, Switzerland Krauer Phillipp;
Research Colloquium on History after 1800 Individual talk ‘Koloniale Söldner: Die Schweiz und Niederländisch-Ostindien’, 1848-1914 23.10.2019 Universität Bern, Switzerland Krauer Phillipp;
Regionalität und Globalität in der jüngsten Zeitgeschichte Europas Vermessung eines neuen Forschungsfeldes Talk given at a conference (DIS-)CONNECTED. DIE FAMILIE WYRSCH ZWISCHEN NIDWALDEN UND BORNEO 12.09.2019 München, Germany Schär Bernhard;
Schweizerische Geschichtstage Talk given at a conference ‘Flucht vor der Armut – Schweizer Söldnermigration nach niederländisch Indien, 1848-1914’ 06.06.2019 Universität Zürich, Switzerland Krauer Phillipp;
Graduate Workshop: European History across Boundaries Talk given at a conference Money for Mercenaries – Relocating the Dutch Colonial Empire in Swiss Archives, 1848–1914? 13.03.2019 Faculty of history, University of Oxford, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Krauer Phillipp;
at Workshop of the Doctoral Programme 'Migration and Postcoloniality Meet Switzerland' Talk given at a conference ‘Swiss “Tools of Empire”. Eine transnationale Geschichte von Schweizer Söldnern in Niederländisch-Ostindien, 1814–1914’ 25.10.2018 Murten, Switzerland Krauer Phillipp;
“Europe and the World: Between Colonialism and Globalization” Talk given at a conference ‘A Swiss Soldier, the Dutch East Indies & the Alps: Ingredients of colonial identity formation in the hinterland of Europe, 1859–1916’ 19.06.2018 German-Italian Center for European Excellence Villa Vigoni , Italy Krauer Phillipp;
Interdisziplinäres South East Asia Meet Up, Univeristät Zürich Talk given at a conference Swiss Tools of Empire 08.06.2017 Zürich, Switzerland Krauer Phillipp;


Self-organised

Title Date Place
An Empire of Demands and Opportunities. The Dutch Indies in European History, International conference at ETH Zurich 01.08.2019 Zürich, Switzerland
New Approaches to Swiss Colonial and Global History 01.11.2018 zürich, Switzerland

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
Plenarsitzung der Eidgenössischen Kommission gegen Rassismus Workshop 03.04.2019 bern, Switzerland Schär Bernhard;
‘Gottfried Keller. Staatschreiber und Dichter’ Performances, exhibitions (e.g. for education institutions) 21.03.2019 Museum Strauhof, Zürich, Switzerland Krauer Phillipp;


Self-organised

Title Date Place

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media ‘Fast alles war mit Sklaverei verbunden’ Tagesanzeiger German-speaking Switzerland 2019
Media relations: print media, online media Tod in Surabaya WOZ International 2019
Media relations: radio, television Sollen Kulturgüter zurückgegeben werden SRF, Echo der Zeit German-speaking Switzerland 2018
Media relations: print media, online media Warum wir Geschichte neu denken sollten Republik International 2018
Media relations: radio, television Wir müssen die Geschichte der globalen Schweiz erforschen SRF Echo der Zeit German-speaking Switzerland 2018

Awards

Title Year
- 3-Month Senior Research Fellow at the LMU Munich Centre for Global History 2019
- 4-month Senior Research Fellow at Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore 2018

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
184290 Tropenliebe - An immersive theatre, exhibition and public discussion project at the Theater Basel 01.04.2019 Agora

Abstract

Between 1814 and 1914 around 7.600 Swiss Mercenaries fought for the Dutch Colonial Army (KNIL) in South East Asia. The KNIL recruited up to 40% of its European soldiers outside the Netherlands. In relation to the size of its population, Switzerland was one of the main suppliers of 'foreign' European troops to KNIL. So far, historians of Switzerland and the Dutch Colonies have hardly ever studied these Swiss 'living tools of empire' (Bossenbroek). This project puts these men on centre-stage, by examining them as agents of historical entanglements and asking: How did they help build the Dutch Empire in South East Asia, and how did their imperial careers shape 19th century Switzerland?The aim this research project, which is designed for four years, is firstly, to create a database with Swiss mercenaries from large yet hitherto unexplored holdings in the Swiss Federal Archives, and from Dutch Colonial Archives. From this database, patterns and changes with regard to the social and geographical origins of these men can be reconstructed, as well as regarding their theatres of deployment in the Dutch Indies. These insights prompt, secondly, inquiries into the structural causes and individual motivations to serve in the Indies, their actions and experiences there, as well as into their life and career trajectories as veterans in Switzerland or elsewhere. To this aim, the project shall collect additional source materials that have likewise remained largely unexplored: newspaper reports, government reports in cantonal and communal archives concerning the fate of Swiss KNIL veterans, and published as well as (mostly) unpublished veterans’ memoires, diaries, and letters. Insights into the local contexts of the Swiss contributions to colonial wars, 'punitive expeditions' and other military activities shall be examined in the colonial records held in the National Archives of the Republic of Indonesia (ANRI) in Jakarta, as well as with published Dutch Colonial Sources (e.g. the Koloniaal verslag). Thirdly, the project seeks to use these newly created source collections to examine entanglements created by some exceptionally well documented groups and individuals: How did they engage economically, culturally, socially, or sexually with societies in the Indies-and how did those experiences affect their later career trajectories in Switzerland or elsewhere? This project hence contributes to three fields of research: 1) While the rich literature on the history of the Swiss Mercenary Trade has limited itself to examining only European ‘military labour markets’ during the Early Modern Period, the proposed project will study the continuities of this trade in non-European theatres of violence in the 19th and early 20th century. 2) It contributes to new approaches in Dutch and Swiss historiography inspired by postcolonial and new imperial history. 3) It joins efforts within Global history to replace euro-centric and nationalistic narratives in European history by narratives of 'trans-imperial' entanglements created, in particular, through social networks cutting across national and imperial state-boundaries. Cooperation with the Dutch Royal Institute for Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) in Leiden, the 'Bronbeek' Museum for the Dutch Colonial Army in Arnhem, and the National Archives of the Republic of Indonesia (ANRI) in Jakarta will support and facilitate the proposed research.
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