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House of Glass: Bureaucracy and Bureaucrats in the Dutch East Indies


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.


In 1988 the Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer published his novel Rumah Kaca, translated in English with the title House of Glass, in which former policeofficer Pangemanann started to work for the Governor General at the Algemeene Secretarie. He had the task of spying and reporting on those who started to struggle for independence and threatened Dutch colonial stability.
Pangemanann’s work was to monitor the people ‘for the sake of security and perpetuity of the government. All natives (…) who so disturbed the peace and serenity of the government – yes, I have and will continue to put all of them into a house of glass which I will place on my desk. I will be able to see evertything. That is my assignment – to watch every movement that takes place in that house of glass’.

This metaphore of the house of glass is the subject of research in this seminar. We want to get a clearer picture of the bureaucrats and bureaucracy in the colonial state of the late 19th and early 20th century.
We will investigate who these bureaucrats were and how they created their houses of glass. In this seminar we give special attention to the records these bureaucrats used and produced, how these records can be identified and how these writing influenced the picture of the colonial state.

The purpose of the research seminar is twofold:
a). To analyze and understand the bureaucratic culture and bureaucratic procedures of the colonial state;
b). To analyze and understand the record creating mechanisms of the colonial state.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to independently identify and select literature, using traditional and modern techniques;
  2. The ability to independently identify and select sources, using traditional and modern techniques;
  3. The ability to analyse and evaluate a corpus of sources with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  4. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;
  5. The ability to independently formulate a clear and well-argued research question, taking into account the theory and method of the field and to reduce this question to accessible and manageable sub-questions;
  6. The ability to independently set up and carry out an original research project that can make a contribution to existing scholarly debates;
  7. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;
  8. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;
  9. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;
  10. (ResMA only): The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    • in the specialisation Archival Studies: archiving in a colonial context; insight into the significance of archiving processes for the way in which a society deals with its documentation heritage in general and its historical practice in particular; disclosure, including digital disclosure, of archives as part of the broader heritage sector.
  2. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation or subspecialisation in question, with a particular focus on the following:
    • in the specialisation Archival Studies: theoretical foundations of archivistics; assessment and selection of archives.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student has developed:

  1. Thorough understanding of the mechanisms of record creation and use of records by using the theory of the records continuum;
  2. The ability to analyze the successive workprocesses and activities which are at the basis of creating records;
  3. (ResMA only): The ability to do comparative research between bureaucratic cultures and the recordcreating mechanisms in two different colonial states.


The timetable is available on the MA History website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • Seminar attendance: 26 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 50 hours

  • Assignment(s): preparation for lectures and presentations: 27 hours

  • Archival research and writing paper: 177 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, 11-14 (ResMA also 15)

  • Oral presentation
    Measured learning objectives: 3-7, 9

  • Assignment 1 (writing literature review and research plan)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8

  • Assignment 2 (reviewing other students research plans)
    Measured learning objectives: 8-9


Written paper: 70 %
Oral presentation: 15%
Assignment 1: 10: %
Assignment 2: 5%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that the written paper must always be sufficient.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Posting reviews and proposal

  • Giving feedback on proposals of other students

  • Communication between tutor and student

Reading list

The readling list be made available via Blackboard


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof. Dr. Charles Jeurgens


Some lectures will be given in the archival institutions that keep the selected collections.