Science in a Colonial Context
Part 1: Scientific Expeditions in the Netherlands East Indies, 1888-1948 – The Archive of the Indies Committee for Scientific Research and Related Bodies
From the National Archives of the Netherlands
Trade follows the flag, but it also follows science, or so believed the Dutch with regard to their immense colony in the Indonesian archipelago. At the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth there were still many white spots on the map and many things to be learned about the people and islands under Dutch control, in particular the second largest island in the world, the virtually unexplored New Guinea. Such knowledge would lead to a more efficient economic exploitation of the colony for agriculture, industry and mining. In keeping also with a current of thinking in colonial policy going back to the 1840s (J.C. Baud), knowledge of the indigenous peoples and cultures was necessary for good governance and public acceptance of Dutch rule. Finally, in this "age of imperialism" the Dutch feared that if they did not undertake the exploration and opening up of the remoter parts of their island empire, other nations just might be tempted to try.
Origins of the Committee
By the late 1880s dissatisfaction with the less than successful efforts of the Royal Dutch Geographical Society (1873) in organizing and carrying out scientific expeditions led to the founding of new organizations for this purpose. In 1887 Dr. Melchior Treub, director of the Botanical Gardens in Buitenzorg (Bogor), founded the "Commission for the Promotion of Research in the Natural Sciences in the Dutch Colonies" in Amsterdam. He firmly believed a base in the Indies was needed for successful organization of expeditions and in 1888 he set up an "
Indisch Comité" (Indies Committee) in Batavia, whose members were recruited from local learned societies and included such distinguished figures as the linguist and ethnologist C. Snouck Hurgronje. Two years later L. Serrurier founded the "Society for the Promotion of Research in the Natural Sciences in the Dutch Colonies", which soon eclipsed and took over the Commission. It used the Indies Committee as its executive branch in the colony. Unlike the Commission, the Society eagerly sought to raise funds from the colonial government and the business community and entrusted the Indies Committee with administering and spending the annual government subsidy of 10,000 guilders it received. In 1897 the Indies Committee became an official legal entity for that purpose under the name
Indisch Comité voor Wetenschappelijke Onderzoekingen (ICWO) (Indies Committee for Scientific Research) and came more and more to regard itself not as a subsidiary, but rather as the equal of the Society and other bodies. In the course of the years it strove to achieve an independent status and to raise money from business to supplement the subsidy. In the period from the 1890s until the advent of the Great Depression in the 1930s, when sources of funding dried up, it used its resources to organize a series of scientific expeditions, support and encourage research in other ways and maintain contacts with scientific organizations and institutions internationally. Among the disciplines in which the ICWO sought to stimulate work were, in addition to geography and cartography, zoology, botany, geology, topography, hydrology, oceanography, linguistics, anthropology, ethnography and ethnomusicology.
In its heyday the ICWO organized and sent out major general scientific expeditions usually preceded by reconnaissance missions accompanied by military personnel. In addition it organized oceanographic and geological expeditions as follows:
General Scientific Expeditions
• Borneo: 1892, 1897-1898, 1925
• Buru (1921)
• New Guinea: 1895, 1902-1903, 1909-1910, 1912-1913 (south, Snow Mountains), 1920-1921 (central), 1920-1921 (north), 1926 (joint American expedition, central-north, Nassau Mountains), 1932 (north, plans)
• Sangi and Talaud islands, Morotai: 1926
• Oceanographic (the "Snellius") expedition: 1928
• New Guinea: 1904-1906 (de Rochemont), 1905 (SW coast), 1908-1912 (military, south), 1910 (cover for an English expedition), 1910 (west); 1909-1910 (Humboldt Bay, north), 1910-1912 (west); 1912 (north), 1914 (north, survey books), 1926 (north, survey book)
• New Guinea (north), 1932-1933, 1933-1935
The archive contains among others:
minutes of the Committee's meetings from 1888 to 1940
• a very large body of (international)
correspondence with scientists, scientific organizations and laboratories, museums, libraries and universities, and with government officials, businesses, etc.
indexed by the National Archives
plans and proposals for expeditions and other forms of research
• published and unpublished
reports and results of the expeditions undertaken
diaries and field notes
• printed and hand-drawn
maps and drawings
• requests for research and publication subsidies
• fundraising appeals
• financial and administrative papers
Archives of related bodies
Also included in the present micropublication are two related archives. The
Natuurwetenschappelijke Raad van Nederlandsch-Indië (Natural Science Council of the Netherlands East Indies) (1925-1941) was an organ set up in Batavia to provide advice to the Netherlands Indies government on all science-related issues and to stimulate and coordinate research. Its archive has (international) correspondence, all
indexed, and other documents, including those relating to an expedition to New Guinea in 1938.
Founded after the Second World War, the
Coordinatie Commissie voor Natuurwetenschappelijke Zaken (1945-1948) (Coordinating Commission for Natural Science Affairs) had the task of getting scientific organizations running again after the Japanese occupation and also corresponded internationally (
indexed ), including with the Netherlands New Guinea Exploration Committee in 1946-1948.