An Invitation to a Party? Creating a Colonial Public and Managing Urban Space in Nineteenth-Century Batavia

01 Feb 2023 12.00 PM - 01.30 PM LHS-TR+55 Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public

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This paper examines the development of colonial public culture in Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies, over the second half of the nineteenth century. The analysis focuses on two case studies representing significant and extended moments of Dutch colonial ceremony: the city’s 250th anniversary celebrations in 1869 and the coronation festivities of Queen Wilhelmina in 1898. Their carefully choreographed programmes contained numerous component events, ranging from concerts to parades and speeches to sports. Comparing these two assemblages of public ceremonial, I argue that the period saw a significant change in Dutch colonial norms regarding public spaces and public cultural expression: while mid-century ceremonies played out as almost exclusively European-coded, towards the end of the century their programmes increasingly sought to assimilate facets of non-European cultural practices and forms. At the same time, the festivities also spread out further afield from the city’s European core and into the kampongs and the Chinese quarter. What emerged was a new kind of urban colonial public that was superficially more diverse and inclusive, yet a deeper analysis shows that the new order remained a strictly hierarchical one, encompassing an elaborate set of boundaries where access was controlled and norms of behaviour enforced.


Mikko Toivanen is an assistant professor at the University of Warsaw specialising in global and colonial history, with a focus on the Dutch and British empires in nineteenth-century Southeast Asia. His current research deals with the development of urban cultures and notions of public space in colonial contexts. Toivanen defended his PhD, on colonial tourism in Southeast Asia, at the European University Institute (Florence, Italy) in 2019. His wider research interests include the global circulations of colonial knowledge, transnational exchanges and mobilities between European empires as well as the history of Nordic colonial entanglements.