Slavery Monument - Clave (2013) Alex da Silva Image: Otto Snoek

Research into the colonial and slavery past of Rotterdam

In the past two years, the Royal Institute of Language, Agriculture and Ethnology (KITLV) has conducted a study on behalf of the city council of Rotterdam into the colonial and slavery past of the city. This investigation arose after the adoption of the motion 'Rotterdam's slavery history provides insight and connects'by initiator Peggy Wijntuin. It delivered a three-part publication on:

• Rotterdam's colonial past, by Gert Oostindie (ed.)
• Rotterdam in slavery, by Alex van Stipriaan
• Rotterdam, a post-colonial city on the move, by Francio Guadeloupe, Paul van de Laar and Liane van der Linden (ed.)

These collections provide insight into the economic significance that the colonies had for the city, the involvement of the political elite in the slavery system and how this past is visible in architecture and museum collections.


For a few years now, there has been a lot of discussion in the city about street names and statues of controversial historical figures. The discussion came to a head when the Witte de With art center announced a name change in 2017, following criticism from artists and activists. The social discussion also occupied the minds of Rotterdam politics.

On November 14, 2017, the city council passed the Wijntuin motion, calling for a thorough investigation of Rotterdam's colonial and slavery past. “The legacies of the slavery past are still deeply anchored in our society,” the motion said. The announcement of the investigation also provoked resistance. For example, several Rotterdam residents at Vers Beton questioned the research design and composition of the research team. The VVD feared tensions and polarization as a result of the investigation.


This three-part publication was presented on Saturday 31 October 2020, containing the results of the research into Rotterdam's colonial and slavery past. Mayor Aboutaleb and Peggy Wijntuin, initiator of the motion 'Rotterdam slavery history provides insight and connects', received the first copies.

The municipality of Rotterdam has commissioned the KITLV research institute in Leiden to carry out this research; the KITLV then asked various scientists to contribute. A scientific and social sounding board group was formed under the chairmanship of Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb to accompany the research.

Broadcast Vers Beton LIVE! 

"Rotterdam was up to his ears in slavery”. That is the conclusion of new research into the colonial and slavery past of Rotterdam. On November 2, the talk show Vers Beton LIVE! completely devoted to this finding and investigated what it means for Rotterdammers and how to relate to this past.

The descendants of enslaved people have been present in Rotterdam since the 20th century. One in eight Rotterdammers has enslaved African ancestors in the family. What does the new knowledge from the research mean for all Rotterdammers? In what way can it contribute to an understanding of today's society, or how to deal with the past?

Led by presenter Hasna El Maroudi, Vers Beton LIVE will discuss this with, among others:

  • Peggy Wine Garden, former PvdA councilor and initiator of the Wijntuin motion
  • Quinsy Gario, artist, activist, candidate Member of Parliament Bij1
  • Gyonne Goedhoop, historian and part of Counter Narratives
  • The KITLV researchers: Alex van StipriaanGert Oostindie en Francio Guadeloupe
  • Alderman Bert Wijbenga (enforcement, outdoor space, integration and living together, VVD)
  • Elvin Rigters, theater maker, citizen councilor Nida and active at Kick Out Zwarte Piet!
  • Carlos Gonsalves, chairman of the research supervisory committee
  • Nyanga Weder, founder “What traces do we hear”

In the media

There was great interest in this collection from the press. You can watch or read some articles and broadcasts here:

Trouw - Rotterdam was up to its neck in slavery
NRCThree books as 'monuments against ignorance'
ADResearch: Rotterdam's slavery history is much greater than previously thought
ONGOINGRotterdam was up to his ears in slavery
TV Rijnmond - Rotterdam has played an important role in the slavery past: 'this history is not far away'
1TodayRotterdam researched its own slavery past: 'it is a stain that you have to be open about'

Extract from the bundle: Battle for space, Caro van der Pluijm

With Battle for space (original title the world, the space), Caro van der Pluijm contributed on behalf of herself and as project coordinator at CBK Rotterdam to part three of this special collection. Her piece is a semi-fictional story in text and image in which Rotterdam artists and art in public space (BKOR) play the leading role. The contribution of Caro van der Pluijm you can read it here.

BKOR also had the honor of contributing to the publication Rotterdam, a post-colonial city on the move, by honoring five photographers and guiding the process. This resulted in five image essays. The five photographers are: Benjamin Li, Eliza Bordeaux, Kimberly Dias, Lou Muuse and Tarona Leonora.

Publication date: 12 / 11 / 2020