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Forgotten Dutch Caribbean Plantation Colonies: Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo, 1770-1800


Admission requirements

Good command of English and Dutch.


After the loss of Dutch Brazil and New Netherland, the Dutch empire in the Atlantic was limited in size and heterogeneous. In Africa, the major settlement was Elmina in present-day Ghana, the West India Company’s centre for the Atlantic slave trade. In the Caribbean, the Dutch colonized six islands, of which Curaçao and St Eustatius had a vital role as free trade zones. In the Guianas, on the Northern coast of South America, the Dutch Republic possessed several plantation colonies where enslaved Africans produced sugar, coffee and cotton for European markets. The most important of these was Suriname, a much prized Dutch possession since the mid-17th century. But to the West of Suriname were three more plantation colonies, Berbice, Essequibo and Demerara. In contrast to Suriname, these colonies have been under-researched apart from a major slave revolt in Berbice, 1763. This neglect may partly be explained by the fact that their growth dates from the 1770s onwards only, but more so because by 1800 the British took possession of all three, merging them into British Guiana, presently the Republic of Guyana. During the period 1770-1800, the three adjacent colonies experienced spectacular economic growth sparked by planters immigrating from the British West Indies; a multiplication of their African populations; slave revolts suppressed with the help of Amerindian allies of the Dutch; several British and French occupations; the impact of French revolutionary ideas; and finally the British take-over. In the seminar we will study these developments. In this research seminar, students will learn to work with printed publications from the late 18th-century at the KITLV in Leiden and will be initiated in archival research at the National Archives. No previous experience with 18th-c. publications or archives is requisite, but a serious command of the Dutch language is absolutely indispensable. Experience has it that some students of the research seminar will proceed to write their MA-thesis on the same subject. There is excellent archival material available to do so.

Requisite advance reading: ca. 200 pages of literature, deposited at the KITLV library, Reuvensplaats 2 (opposite the Lipsius building).

Week 1 – Introduction, discussion of the literature and work program.

Week 2 – Preparation of introductory paper.

Week 3 – Discussion of the individual papers, 1500 words.

Week 4 – Discussion of contemporary printed sources, practice in reading, assignment of individual papers.

Week 5 – Preparation of paper based on contemporary printed sources.

Week 6 – First visit to the National Archives, The Hague.

Weeks 7-14 – Archival research.

Weeks 15-16 – Presentation of individual research papers (max 5000 words).

Week 17 – Presentation of topical trends, individual papers (1000 words).

Course objectives



See course-schedule

Mode of instruction

Research seminar.

Assessment method




Reading list

To be announced


See enrolment-procedure

Contact information

E-mail: Prof.dr. G.J. Oostindie


All archival sources will be in Dutch.