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Empire in the East Indies: Literature, Geopolitics and Imperial Awareness in British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, c. 1780-1930

Applicant Denger Marijke
Number 184503
Funding scheme Early Postdoc.Mobility
Research institution Faculty of English Language and Literature University of Oxford
Institution of higher education Institution abroad - IACH
Main discipline German and English languages and literature
Start/End 01.02.2019 - 31.07.2020
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All Disciplines (2)

German and English languages and literature
Other languages and literature

Keywords (8)

British literature; British Empire; postcolonial studies; Dutch literature; Dutch Empire; colonialism; Dutch East Indies; British Malaya

Lay Summary (German)

Das Projekt untersucht britische und niederländische Kolonialliteratur über Malaysia, Singapur und Indonesien und fragt nach deren Einfluss auf die Entwicklung völlig unterschiedlicher Verhältnisse zum Kolonialreich, welche Grossbritannien und die Niederlande noch heute prägen.
Lay summary
In Grossbritannien ist das Empire noch allgegenwärtig, z.B. in Form von Denkmälern, und Teil des kollektiven Gedächtnisses. In den Niederlanden, hingegen, hat die Geschichte des Landes als Kolonialmacht bislang keine bedeutende Rolle im nationalen Selbstverständnis gespielt. Dies spiegelt sich im Forschungsstand wieder. Im angelsächsischen Raum sind postcolonial studies ein eigenes Forschungsfeld. In den Niederlanden gibt es historische Forschung zum einstigen Imperium, jedoch fand die literaturwissenschaftliche Perspektive soweit wenig Beachtung. Das Forschungsprojekt hat zum Ziel, diese Lücke zu schliessen, und stellt die erste vergleichende Studie zu britischer und niederländischer Kolonialliteratur dar. Es fragt insbesondere nach der Rolle der Literatur in der Entwicklung eines jeweils völlig eigenen Bewusstseins des (einstigen) Kolonialreichs und seiner emotionalen Bedeutung, welches Grossbritannien und die Niederlande noch heute als unterschiedliche europäische Gesellschaften prägt. Untersucht wird britische und niederländische Prosa über die sogenannten 'East Indies', welche aufgeteilt wurden in eine britische und eine niederländische Hälfte (bestehend aus Malaysia und Singapur, bzw. Indonesien). Hierzu existiert eine Bandbreite an Texten, von denen viele bislang jedoch kaum untersucht wurden. Mittels Archivarbeit in Leiden und Oxford beabsichtigt das Projekt, die Wechselwirkung zwischen der Ausbreitung zweier Imperien in Südostasien und der Entwicklung zweier literarischen Ästhetiken in Europa zu ergründen. Das Projekt leistet somit einen Beitrag zum aufkommenden Feld der vergleichenden postcolonial studies, sowie zu aktuellen Debatten über den nachhaltigen Einfluss der Kolonialzeit auf die Verhandlung europäischer politischer und kultureller Identität.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 07.12.2018

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Lezingenmiddag Werkgroep Indisch-Nederlandse Letterkunde Individual talk Een imperium (be)schrijven. Literatuur en koloniale identiteit in British Malaya en Nederlands-Indië, circa 1780-1930 13.03.2020 Leiden, Netherlands Denger Marijke;
Leiden Southeast Asia Seminar Individual talk Writing Empire Across the Indies: Towards a Comparative Analysis of Colonial Literatures on British Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, c. 1780-1930 10.10.2019 Leiden, Netherlands Denger Marijke;
European Association for Southeast Asian Studies Conference Talk given at a conference Disruptions from the 'In-Between': Locating Borneo and Its Agency in British Colonial Fiction 10.09.2019 Berlin, Germany Denger Marijke;
Postcolonial Oceans: Contradictions and Heterogeneities in the Epistemes of Salt Water (2019 GAPS Conference) Talk given at a conference Swinging Together to the Same Anchor? Cultural Contact, Colonialist Discourse and Salt Water Epistemologies in Joseph Conrad's The Rescue 30.05.2019 Bremen, Germany Denger Marijke;
Brexit and Beyond: Nation and Identity (2019 SAUTE Conference) Talk given at a conference Instrumentalising (In)Dependence: Empire, Nation and Identity in Nineteenth-Century British Travel Writing and the Pro-Brexit Campaign 03.05.2019 Basel, Switzerland Denger Marijke;


In postcolonial studies, the focus has traditionally been on colonised subjects and on the wide-ranging impact that (European) imperialism has had on non-Western societies. However, in the face of the resurgence of nationalism, it is as pertinent as ever to also ask what colonisation has done to the former colonisers. In my research project, I will pursue this question in relation to the literary and geopolitical histories of Great Britain and the Netherlands, both at the forefront of maritime exploration, trade and imperial expansion for several centuries. Establishing the new concept of 'imperial awareness', I will trace how the British and Dutch developed completely different affective relationships to empire, which continue to impact on their respective societies today. While, in the UK, the potency of empire as a positive referential frame can be witnessed, for example, in the success of the Brexit campaign, in the Netherlands, there has long been a marked disinterest in empire as something that can be commemorated and/or contested. In my project, I will focus on British and Dutch literary engagements with Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia between c. 1780 and 1930. In both English and Dutch, there exists a large body of literary materials engaging with this period of heightened colonial activity in the 'East Indies'. However, while texts such as Joseph Conrad's Almayer's Folly and Multatuli's Max Havelaar are still read and taught, many others have not yet been made available to a broad readership. This is a gap I seek to close. Literature represented and supported the geopolitical developments that produced different British and Dutch understandings of empire. These contributed to the formation of distinct British and Dutch literary aesthetics, which have so far hardly received joint critical attention. Through extensive archival work at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (Leiden) and the University of Oxford, I aim to compile the first Anglo-Dutch literary history that foregrounds the relation between the formal qualities of the selected literature and the material colonial reality of which it was a part. My corpus will include a variety of English and Dutch fiction and non-fiction, written about the East Indies during my period of enquiry. Throughout my project, I will draw on the concept of imperial awareness in order to consider British and Dutch colonial literatures, many of which can only be accessed at the respective archives, thus creating a new literary critical tool for assessing how the politics of empire continue to impact on the politics of different European societies today.