This theme focuses on the entire range of encounters with an unknown outside world, of voyages undertaken by merchants, soldiers, diplomats, adventurers and scholars. Who were the most prominent travellers and how did they contribute towards the collections? What was their network in an exotic world? And what was their place within the broader framework of the intellectual history of their home country?
Logically, this thematic approach includes the interaction with the Islam World and the history of European expansion and decolonisation. After the Second World War the Netherlands, like other countries in Europe, witnessed the influx of large groups of immigrants; initially from the former colonies but from the 1960s onwards also migrant workers and refugees from other countries. As a result, the relativity of notions such as ‘foreign’ and ‘domestic’ has only gained relevance in this age of globalisation.
In all their variety, the Special Collections offer a wealth of research materials for the exploration of this theme in a historical context. Manuscripts, printed books and other resources such as photographs, maps and artefacts are silent witnesses of the Netherlands’ engagement with Asia, Africa and the Americas from the late sixteenth century onwards. Moreover, the library collections of the Royal Institute for the Tropics (KIT), the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) and the former library of the Dutch Ministry of Colonies – all of which are presently under the care of Leiden University Libraries – offer unrivalled opportunities for the study of the (colonial) history of Indonesia, Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles.
Texts and images from the Middle East have been collected ever since the foundation of Leiden University. Examples of these are the 900 Islamic manuscripts bequeathed to the University by the diplomat and orientalist Levinus Warner (c.1618–1665), and the collection of the Dutch entrepreneur and diplomat Albert Hotz (1855-1930), consisting mainly of printed books and photographs from and about the Middle East, most notably Iran.
Furthermore, rich collections of maps, topographical prints and albums of travel photographs from all over the world reflect a past full of travel, exploration, discovery, conquest and the ‘civilising mission’.