Universiteit Leiden

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Oppression and Freedom

Leiden University has as its motto: Bastion of Freedom, Libertatis praesidium. The motto refers to the principles for which prince William of Orange, its founder and the leader of the Dutch revolt against Spain, has fought with great dedication: freedom of religion and conscience, the right of self-determination; the right of representation and participation.

None of these principles were and are self-evident. The Dutch rebels who forged their own Republic soon became oppressors in their colonies and took part in the slave trade. Europe’s history is full of armed conflicts: wars of religion, wars of succession, revolutionary wars, world wars. In the colonies (and elsewhere), too, the declaration of independence did not always bring freedom to everyone, especially when states were founded in which nations or communities feel discriminated and keep striving for equal rights.

These Dutch, European and colonial conflicts are well documented in the Leiden collections, with archives, manuscripts, rare books, ephemera, maps, prints, drawings and photographs  in abundance. From its start the library collected materials pertaining to the Dutch Revolt. But in later centuries, too, it acquired collections and items from freethinkers, scholars, dissidents and students who fled to the Republic and en joyed its tolerance.

Striking examples are the manuscripts of Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), whose studies on the right of war and peace and on the freedom of the seas were instrumental in the development of public international law; collections from huguenots fled from France – such as the bequest of Prosper Marchand (1678-1756) or the Bibliothèque Wallonne; or the Dutch illegal and clandestine editions from World War II, collected by Dirk de Jong. The KIT and KITLV loan collections, on the other hand, – in which Dutch (post) colonial history is dominating – give a completely different picture of oppression and freedom.  


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