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Blog by student assistant Marin Kuijt: Global Perspectives and the HI – #1: Decolonization

For the past months, I have been working for the Institute as a student assistant on the question of the place and future of global perspectives in the Institute. The Huizinga Institute wants to put the global more central in its curriculum and the Institute. But what does ‘global’ mean and how can its cause be advanced? In this series of blog posts, I will introduce different perspectives on this question, based on the interviews and conversations. This first post is devoted to decolonization.

Decolonization is on everyone’s mind. The subject of decolonization sometimes suddenly came up in conversations. Without me bringing the subject up, several people started talking about the subject. Everyone agreed that decolonization should be part of the conversation about the future course of the Huizinga Institute.

Some people, however, made it clear that this perspective is radical. They said to me that this perspective should not drown out other perspectives. They implicitly said that decolonization is a marginal perspective and that they would like to keep it that way. Maybe some people are afraid that – metaphorically – the statue of Johan Huizinga will be toppled once we let the decolonizers in.

I must admit that I expected a radical perspective on the Huizinga Institute as well. When I spoke to members of Utrecht University’s Decolonization Group, I assumed they would urge the Institute to engage with epistemologies of the Global South and radically diversify the staff of the Institute.

Although they would not oppose this, they said very different things to me. What I heard from them were some of the most practical suggestions I heard from all people I spoke to. The decolonizers, it turns out, have a great toolkit for changing a curriculum.

So what is their advice?

Firstly, it is important to spread the word about the global ambitions of the Institute. Through the website, newsletter, and other ways it should be immediately clear that the Huizinga Institute cares about global perspectives. Symbolic statements like these will attract more people interested in these dimensions of cultural history to the Institute, thus reinforcing this area of expertise.

Secondly, give teachers practical support for (re)designing courses or masterclasses with a global scope. Providing academics designing a new course with a database with literature about global history written by non-Western academics helps to diversify the curriculum.

The last point on the list is the simplest: offer courses on global history. This is something the Institute is already preparing.

So is it time to decolonize the Huizinga Institute? Perhaps. It is not for me to decide. However, I think it is time to take the decolonizers seriously. The Huizinga Institute might run into a paradox if it does not: by marginalizing the decolonial perspective in favor of, supposedly, more moderate or practical contributions to the discussion, the Institute might ignore the most practical and well-prepared group there is in this discussion.