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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

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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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