The best place for the National Slavery Museum is Marineterrein

Marineterrein in Kattenburg, one of Amsterdam’s eastern islands.Birgit Begel’s photo

In 2023, the final location of the future National Slavery Museum will be presented. There are currently nine locations pictured for the museum. According to the Marineterrein Development Working Group (WOM), a group of residents groups passionate about Marineterrein, Marineterrein is the best location to house a museum for a number of reasons:

The main motivation for choosing this site lies in its colonial past. The ships that accompanied the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) ships on their “trading voyages” were built here. The shipyards that were located on surrounding islands, including Austinburg, are also strongly intertwined with important events from slavery’s past. Until the 18th century, approximately 4,700 ships were built here for both the VOC and the West India Company (WIC).

living relationship

In 1688, the number of enslaved people, of whom the WIC in particular earned a lot of money, reached a dramatic peak with 66,348. The Zeemagazijn, which dates back to 1656 and is now the Maritime Museum, played a “natural” role in this, given the close relationship between the interests Private and public colonial trade, with enslaved people forming an essential link in the WIC’s transatlantic triangular trade. In short, this region’s historical connections provide a layered “living” relationship with slavery’s past.

The location on the water creates a new synergy between the Historical Museum Harbor, Maritime Museum, Nemo and Arkham. Other historical sites nearby: Hortus Botanicus, Plantagebuurt and Tropenmuseum. Although the eastern part of Centrum and Oost counties has numerous references to slavery’s past, access to many of them is minimal. Many street names in the east refer to the colonial past, such as Dapperstraat and Vrolikstraat.

The National Slavery Museum can act as a catalyst for a re-evaluation of the environment by making these “hidden” colonial histories more visible, such as the instrumental role played by Hortus in plant cuttings for (coffee) plantations in Suriname.

environmental context

One of the requirements of a slavery museum is that it must be accomplished in a green and park-like environment. Marineterrein is currently a green oasis in the busy city. The National Slavery Museum located on this site is directly related to the current environmental context and can be marked by ‘frontiers’, for example by planting a large number of tree species from different parts of the world. As with Hortus Botanicus or Hotel Jakarta, cultivation can also continue in the future museum building.

Marineterrein is currently home to all kinds of organisations, schools and museums that operate at the intersection of the arts, sciences, technology and education. Research and experimentation is being done to find out how interdisciplinary projects can improve our living environment.

The goal of the National Slavery Museum has a similar focus and it fits seamlessly into this. In developing educational programs, innovative anthropological storytelling methods can be used to connect the complex history of our slavery past with technological innovation.

New media formats

One attractive method is called “follow the thing”. In doing so, the path traveled by beings is followed and studied, rather than a fixed geographic location or limited group of people. This is in line with the broader trend in the (international) world of national museums to seek new media forms to make intangible heritage accessible.

The Slavery Museum will become an interesting museum, especially for primary and secondary schools, where young people can gather information on this important topic. Schoolchildren already visit memorial sites in Westerbork or in Poland every year. It is precisely the physical connection with the historical context of the site that makes teens want to see these places and hear stories that help them understand history better.

Since the opening of the Marineterrein a few years ago, the area has become one of the most popular spots in central Amsterdam. As a result, the National Slavery Museum in this location will immediately get a natural start and positive energy, so as to easily blend into the city. Local people around Marineterrein welcome and embrace the establishment of the Slavery Museum in this unique location.

The invisible history

Thanks to a museum in Marineterrein, countless stories have been consolidated geographically after hundreds of years. This has great symbolic value and a social and political choice that should not be underestimated.

It is a unique opportunity to bring to light the invisible history of slavery and enslavement in one of the most important bases of power in our colonial politics. The site of the Museum of Slavery in Marineterrein appeals to and connects with everyone’s imagination.

The layered context contributes to the fact that the stories are passed on to subsequent generations in a poignant way. In short, we are facing our history head-on.

Siep de Haan, Sjoerd van Oevelen, Marinus Oostenbrink and Saskia Moerbeek, on behalf of the working group developing Marineterrein and the surrounding neighbourhoods.

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