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Violent Transformation: The Decolonization War in Indonesia, 1945-1950


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. It is not accessible for BA students.
Passive command of the Dutch language is required.


World War Two and particularly the 1942 Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies marked the beginning of the end for the Dutch colonial empire in Asia. Two days after the Japanese occupation ended on 15 August 1945, nationalist leaders Sukarno and Mohammad Hatta declared the independence of the Republik Indonesia. It took over four years of protracted negotiations, bitter warfare and increasing international pressure before the Dutch agreed to a transfer of sovereignty, enacted on 27 December 1949.

Much has been written on the negotiations during these years. There is also a considerable and growing literature on the military engagements, but far more work needs to be done in this field. Dutch-Indonesian warfare comprised both traditional military operations such as the so-called Dutch ‘politionele acties’, as well as widespread Indonesian guerrilla warfare. Moreover, there was an initial phase of local violence perpetrated against ethnic groups (supposedly) affiliated with the Dutch colonial regime, conventionally known as the bersiap period. And last but not least, there was intense and violent conflict between various Indonesian parties. The conflict was not a straightforward two-sided war of a unified Indonesian people fighting against the Dutch.

In this research seminar, we will look primarily at one aspect of this complex and violent period in Indonesian and bilateral Dutch-Indonesian history: the Dutch military operations. Official Dutch apologies have been made for so-called ‘excesses’ committed against Indonesian citizens at specific locations on specific dates (Rawagede, South-Sulawesi). It remains a major challenge, however, to assess the extent to which such military violence, which today might qualify as crimes against humanity, was endemic. Heated debates have been waged in Dutch society about this issue, and continue to this day.

Students will learn about this critical period in Dutch-Indonesian relations in a broader comparative perspective on decolonization wars; they will become acquainted with debates about the extent and nature of Dutch military violence in this period; and most of all they will learn to work with source materials that may help us to enhance our understanding of this traumatic era, the nature of the guerrilla war, and the counter-insurgency tactics employed. Archival records will be the main sources studied by the participants in this seminar. No previous research experience is necessary, but passive 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 source material available to do so. There is no entry test.

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 Colonial and Global History: how global (political, socio-economic, and cultural) connections interact with regional processes of identity and state formation; hence insight in cross-cultural processes (including the infrastructure of shipping and other modes of communication) that affect regions across the world such as imperialism, colonisation, islamisation, modernisation and globalisation (in particular during the period 1200-1940);
  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 Colonial and Global History: empirical research from a comparative and connective perspective.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Research Seminar

The student will acquire:

  1. Knowledge and comprehension of the particular field of Colonial history, including decolonization;
  2. Knowledge about decolonization wars in general and specifically about this critical period in Dutch-Indonesian relations, including comprehension of debates about the extent and nature of Dutch military violence in this period;
  3. The skills to work with source materials that may help us enhance our understanding of this turbulent era.
  4. (ResMA only): The above skills and in addition will be expected to develop competency in linking theoretical analysis to the handling of primary source material.


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: 20 hours

  • Practical work: 30 hours

  • Assessment: 20 hours

  • Preparation seminar/assignments: 10 hours

  • Tutoring: 2 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 60 hours

  • Writing a research paper (including study of literature and sources: 138 hours

Assessment method

  • Written paper (ca. 7500 words, based on research in primary sources, including footnotes and bibliography)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8, (ResMa: also 10), 12-15

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

  • Assignment 1 (short paper)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8 (ResMA: also 10), 11-12

  • Assignment 2 (short paper)
    Measured learning objectives: 1-8 (ResMA: also 10), 11-12

Evaluation of the student papers (first short papers on the reading list of relevant literature, next and more crucially papers based on research in unique historical sources) will form the most substantial method of assessment. In addition, the presentation of these papers and active participation in the discussion will be incorporated in the assessment.

There are strict deadlines for the submission of all papers. These will be communicated by the instructors during the seminars and on Blackboard.


Written paper: 60%
Oral presentation: 20%
Assignment 1: 10%
Assignment 2: 10%

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:

  • Communication

  • Dissemination of course information

Reading list

  • Requisite reading: ca. 360 pages of literature, available at the UBL. Master copies of the literature will be made available at the KITLV institute, in a box near the administration office (2nd floor, Reuvensplaats 2, opposite the Lipsius building).

  • Reading list and weekly schedule will be made available on Blackboard (under Course Information). The exact literature will be announced later.


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

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. B.W. Luttikhuis