Project description

Sites, Bodies and Stories: The Dynamics of Heritage Formation in Colonial and Postcolonial Indonesia and the Netherlands

The research program ‘Sites, Bodies and Stories’ (SBS) investigates cultural heritage formation in colonial and postcolonial Indonesia and the Netherlands since the beginning of the nineteenth century. It analyses the emergence of a colonial canon of Indonesian culture, and its impact on the dynamics of appropriation and belonging, inclusion and exclusion, during the process of (post)colonial state formation.

Three case studies, focusing on different heritage domains, will be the prisms through which the political dimensions and colonial threads of heritage formation across the colonial divide will be investigated. The case studies concern: (1) archaeological-historical sites; (2) human remains and physical anthropological data; and (3) contemporary performing traditions and performance practices. Each of these heritage domains implicitly refers to an ‘authentic’ indigenous past. Each domain has been incorporated in a Western scientific body of colonial knowledge, and has been regulated and preserved through the intervention of cultural institutions in Indonesia and the Netherlands.

The use of the three cases allows the program to follow three different approaches to the dynamics of heritage formation: focusing on state interventions (Sites), on international professional agendas (Bodies) and on individual local cultural productions (Stories). The aim is, by following these three approaches to arrive at an analysis of the operation of processes of heritage formation in colonial, postcolonial and international arenas, drawing its power and legitimacy from, respectively, the state, international norms, and local tradition.


  • Full project description, 2008. [PDF]