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Natural disasters and colonialism: making sense of catastrophe in 19th century Indonesia


Admission requirements



In 1883 the volcanic island Krakatoa exploded, causing two tsunamis and killing over 35.000 people in Java and Sumatra. It was for the first time that a disaster in Indonesia featured in the press worldwide and it was for the first time that funds were raised on a global scale for the victims of the disaster. In contemporary Indonesia disasters resulting from natural hazards such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods occur relatively frequent and receive much attention by the world press. In contrast, we know surprisingly little of the way in which people in Indonesia experienced natural hazards before 1950.
The questions we will be dealing with in this class are: what sense did people make of disasters? how were disasters represented in texts and other sources by various stakeholders such as religious authorities, colonial officials and scientists. And in what way should we interpret such representations? We will collectively gather information on disaster representations from a variety of sources such as colonial journals and the Indonesian press. Recent literature in the interdisciplinary field of disaster studies will be used to develop our interpretative frame of these disaster representations. Students will write individual research papers based on our collective findings.

Course objectives

Students will develop a good insight in the central problems and debates in the field of historical disaster studies and colonial representations and at the same time expand their knowledge on the history of 19th century (colonial) Indonesia. Students will learn to organize and execute collaborative research, besides carrying out their individual projects.


See here.

Mode of instruction

Research seminar.

Assessment method

  • Participation in class, including oral presentations 30%

  • Research paper 70%



Reading list

To be announced.


via uSis.

Contact information

Email: Ms.dr. A.F. Schrikker


If only native speakers of Dutch participate, the course can be taught in Dutch.