Fixing Historical Omissions: Connecting African, Native American and Slavery Heritage in New York

dutch new york, slavery, native american history

Marabou is starting off the week celebrating a project and book that they admire and find inspiring. Dutch New York Histories: Connecting African, Native American and Slavery Heritage, written in both English and Dutch, highlights what the authors call “hidden histories” about the inter-relationship of the Dutch, African, and Native communities in New York City and State from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The introduction states, “This book reveals a story of struggle, colonial occupation, discrimination, survival, and the mixing of Native American, African, and Dutch ancestry and heritage.”

This is not just a history book, but also a self-guided tour of 90+ locations that readers can visit. The sites include houses and burial grounds still around today to street intersections that mark a historically significant spot where the original structure no longer exists. The authors, in a section called “Why this book?” explain how their book not only reveals “hidden histories” overlooked or omitted in discussions of Dutch history in New York, but in addition,

These hidden histories resonate in what is called the cultural archive: they inform our thoughts, feelings and actions. What it means to be black or white is to this day a question with implications in postcolonial societies. It influences our daily lives, how our institutions are organized, and which belief systems we are brought up with…

Decolonizing history is not only about bringing marginalized voices to the fore, but also about exposing the underlying systems and thus acknowledging that writing history is also a means of addressing racism and white supremacy…

Traces of history can be found in present-day landscapes: churches, graveyards, forts, houses of slave-owners, archeological sites, and places where the fight for full emancipation and abolition of slavery were fought. More hidden aspects come to the surface through research, including locations of markets, where captives were bought and sold as goods, landing sites of slave ships, escape routes and safe houses for the freedom-seekers, and cellars and attics in households where enslaved people labored and slept.

Dutch New York Histories is written by four women:

Dienke Hondius is a historian and Associate Professor of Contemporary History at the Free University Amsterdam. Her research focuses on the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, racism, colonial history, history of slavery, and related themes. Dienke initiated the Mapping Slavery Project, a public history project that focuses on the Dutch history of slavery and its intersections of the past and the material.

Nancy Jouwe is a lecturer, researcher, public speaker, and PhD candidate at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Her focus is on intersectionality, colonial history, arts, heritage and intercultural dialogue. Nancy is the co-founder of Framer Framed, a platform for contemporary art, visual culture, and critical theory & practice, and is the project manager, researcher, and museum liaison for the Mapping Slavery Project.

Dineke Stam is a historian and exhibition designer with extensive experience in working on diversity within the museum and heritage sector. She runs Intercultural Heritage and Museum Projects in the Netherlands. Dineke works on research and education for the Mapping Slavery Project.

Jennifer Tosch is the founder of Black Heritage Tours in Amsterdam, Brussels & New York State. She explains that part of the inspiration of her tours came, “from a void that I encountered regarding positive narratives about the presence and contributions of the African Diaspora in the Netherlands.” Jennifer works as the heritage consultant and US Coordinator for the Mapping Slavery Project.

In their book, Dienke, Nancy, Dineke, and Jennifer explain that Dutch, African, and Native histories are deeply imbedded in New York’s built environment.  Marabou admires how the authors explain and illustrate this. Marabou feels that if a museum will not or does not acknowledged or commemorate histories of certain populations, the landscape that surrounds these museums can speak to and highlight these unacknowledged stories. Where brick and mortar museum buildings and history books can have supposed or claimed limitations on whose and what stories can be told, the authors emphasize that less represented history can continually be unearthed and provide tangible connections to the contributions of people and cultures past.

If you are interested in hearing from the authors themselves, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture hosted a panel discussion about the book in August of 2017 and it can be watched here. The video has an introduction to the work done at the Shomburg  (worth the watch). But if you want to go right to the discussion of the book, jump to 6:24.

Dutch New York Histories is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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