On the Waterfront 39

13 February 2020 - 11:02

On the Waterfront is the semi-annual magazine of the IISH. This is issue 39 (2020)

On the Waterfront : newsletter from the Friends of the IISH
Editor: Aad Blok
Place of publication: Amsterdam
Year: 2020 / Issue: 39 / Format: 16 pp.

Including lecture and interview by Peter van Dam.


In the past half year the iish has been abuzz with activity. The most striking one was an event that occurred on 26 June in a packed Nettlau Room at the iish: the presentation of a study on the economic impact of slavery in the Netherlands during the eighteenth century. A team under the aegis of iish researchers Ulbe Bosma and Pepijn Brandon resolved a longstanding debate on the importance of slavery for the Netherlands. Did slavery sustain the economy or was its importance relative, as Professor Emeritus Piet Emmer continued to insist? The question proved challenging. Gathering a huge quantity of data and performing extensive calculations, the research team determined that slavery accounted for about five percent of the Dutch gross domestic product around 1780. This is comparable to the share of the Rotterdam harbour in the Dutch economy today, so slavery carried substantial weight. The study featured on the front page of the nrc Handelsblad and on the Dutch tv programme Nieuwsuur.
Following this publicity, the City of Amsterdam asked the iish to submit a proposal for a study on the role of the city in slavery. Pepijn Brandon’s plan for a preliminary study, scheduled for completion in July 2020, was approved by the city and is expected to lead to more expansive research.
Another presentation was similarly encouraging. On 24 May we presented the interviews we conducted with former trade-union leader Lodewijk de Waal. The resulting six hours of video footage are a valuable historical source for research on labour relations in the fourth quarter of the twentieth century. The Dutch employers’ organization vno ncw agreed to fund a project in which we will interview their former chairpersons and directors. A total of 36 hours of recordings are planned. The employers’ project will be launched in January 2020.
We have agreed with the fnv trade union confederation to conduct a research project on the transformation of work in recent decades and its consequences for workplace relations and organized solidarity. The fnv is providing most of the financing for this study, which will be conducted by the young historian Rosa Kösters. If all proceeds according to plan, she will take her PhD degree on this research.
The Dutch slavery history and the recent transformation of labour relations are both topics in which the iish demonstrates its academic and social involvement.

Henk Wals

Cover on the Waterfront 39