Colonial Collections Consortium

Collections from colonial contexts

The Netherlands had colonies and trading posts in several continents from the seventeenth century onwards. As colonists, armed forces and traders, they left their mark on local societies.

This history is characterised by violence, exploitation, oppression, racism and inequality. Also where ownership of and access to cultural heritage is concerned.

Many objects from that long colonial period can be found in the Netherlands: at museums, universities and other institutions or in private homes. These are collections from colonial contexts with hundreds of thousands of objects: art objects, religious objects, historical objects, jewellery, natural history objects and everyday objects.

Colonial collections are diverse, as are the ways in which objects were obtained during the colonial period. Due to unequal power relations, looting or other involuntary loss of possession often occurred, such as objects that were forcibly donated or sold, or obtained during collecting expeditions.

A core task of collection-managing institutions is research into provenance history, in other words, provenance research. Part of this is the question of whether collections from colonial contexts in their care have been acquired in a just manner.

The Colonial Collections Consortium serves as a hub and point of contact for stakeholders. It shares knowledge and experience about objects acquired in colonial contexts. It supports collection managers in the provenance research process, where the consortium can help engage expertise in countries of origin and improve digital access to collections. It provides a network to connect museums and experts in source countries and the Netherlands.