Every Amsterdammer is being offered a free copy of a book exploring the city’s role in the organisation and management of the global slave trade as part of a wider reckoning with the Netherlands’ past.
Last year the International Institute of Social History carried out research on behalf of the municipality of Amsterdam, and the results have now been made into a book: Amsterdam and the history of slavery.
Researchers uncovered the integral role played by Amsterdam administrators in the Dutch East India company and the West India company, as well as the investments made by high-profile individuals in slave ships and sugar plantations.
Copies of the book, which also explores how the racist ideas of the Dutch “golden age” continue today, are now being made available to Amsterdam residents and can picked up at the City hall or at larger libraries.
Rutger Groot Wassink, a deputy mayor of Amsterdam, told Het Parool newspaper: “Who we are as a city is partly determined by our shared past, the beautiful and the terrible. We need to know the facts and not be afraid of the conversation.
“In this way we can share the lessons of the past with each other and pass them on to new generations.”
Dutch traders shipped more than 600,000 African people to North and South America and between 660,000 and 1.1 million people around the Indian ocean. Last year King Willem-Alexander apologised for the “excessive violence” of the Dutch colonialists in Indonesia.
But there remains a live debate in the Netherlands about the portrayal of empire and slavery in schools and public places through street names and statues.
There has nevertheless been a push by the royal family and key cultural institutions to acknowledge the scale of the involvement of the Dutch in the exploitation of enslaved people.
Last month, King Willem-Alexander opened the first exhibition on the subject, to be shown at the Rijksmuseum. It examines 10 lives caught up in the Dutch slave trade between the early 17th century and 1863, when the practice was finally made illegal in Suriname and the Antilles.
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