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8 September 2004 - ENCOMPASS: Encountering a Common Past in Asia

Report of the Discussion Meeting on Mutual Heritage, Higher Education and Scientific Research,held at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, The Hague, the Netherlands

The occasion

n Wednesday 8 September more than 100 distinguished guests were welcomed by Mr J. Hoekema, Director International Cultural Policy of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, in the Van Kleffenszaal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The guests included ambassadors and cultural attachés of the embassies of China, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam; members of the Dutch parliament; officials from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; representatives from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO, WOTRO), UNESCO The Netherlands, NUFFIC and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences (KNAW); the Chairman of the Board of Leiden University as well as the Dean of the Faculty of Letters and staff members of the National Archives.

left Mr Hoekema, right Mr Van Boven

The Speakers

n his welcoming address Mr Hoekema explained the purpose of the discussion meeting, which was jointly organized by Dr M. van Boven (Director of the National Archives) and Prof. Dr L. Blussé (Leiden University). The aim of the organizers of the Encompass program is to launch a BA/MA program for gifted, carefully selected Asian history students that will teach them how to read and analyse Dutch archival documents on the history of their own country. There is an enormous mass of Dutch archival material, which so far has not been utilized by Asian historians because of the language barrier raised by the Dutch language.

The first speaker, Prof. Dr Leonard Blussé, head of the successful TANAP Research program which is presently supervising the doctoral research of seventeen mid-career Asian and South African university lecturers, stressed the need for creating a sustained Dutch program of cultural cooperation aimed at capacity building in the historical departments of Asian universities and/or institutions of higher learning. Blussé stressed that Asian historians have the right to know, to understand and to interpret the Dutch sources. Nowadays this is not the case and without Dutch assistance this will never be the case. In the bilateral relations between the Netherlands and Asian countries, various mutual heritage projects have been developed in the past, but often without the necessary historical know-how among the Asian counterparts. A more durable mutual heritage policy will greatly depend on the availability of well-informed experts in the respective Asian countries. Professor Blussé outlined how the new Encompass program will focus on a younger group of students, who will receive intensive training in a specifically adapted educational environment.

The second speaker, Drs Muridan S. Widjojo, a research fellow of the LIPI research institute, Jakarta, and one of the doctoral TANAP candidates from Indonesia, reflected on the careers of three generations of historians in post-independence Indonesia. The generation of the 1960s mastered sufficient linguistic skills in Dutch and English and was theoretically well equipped to perform on an international level. This is not the case with the 1980s generation of university teachers, whose mastery of the Dutch language is insufficient to engage in fruitful archival research and who are burdened by bureaucratic rules and heavy teaching obligations. Mr Widjojo stressed that the Encompass program answers the needs of the former state universities in Indonesia which have recently become autonomous and it will give a boost to the main departments of history in Jakarta and Yogyakarta in terms of research capacity building and the development of language training facilities. Leiden-trained MA graduates will certainly enhance the level of graduate teaching at Indonesia’s universities.

Prof. Dr Bambang Hidayat, Indonesia’s foremost astronomer and President of the Indonesian Academy of Science, drew attention to the importance of creating a new generation of young historians who will be trained to handle the available historical documentation objectively and impartially and present their findings at an international platform. Before his departure from Indonesia, Prof. Hidayat had sent the Encompass proposal to the rectors of several of the main Indonesian universities for comments and had received enthusiastic reactions.

Prof. Dr Om Prakash, former director of the Delhi School of Economics, a world famous historian, who has more than 40 years of experience in handling Dutch VOC sources for writing Asian economic history, first expressed his great satisfaction with the progress of the TANAP project. He is of the opinion that the TANAP research program meets very high academic standards and through the publication of no less than seventeen PhD theses written by young Asian scholars it will set the tone for further research in Asia. Although the TANAP program, with its emphasis on teaching PhD students, should be highly regarded, Professor Om Prakash heartily agreed that the proposed Encompass program, with its emphasis on the teaching of basic skills at the BA and MA-level, would suit the needs of Indian students even better, because it will enable them to use these practical skills in many different ways, either within universities at home or in such government agencies as archives, cultural heritage preservation institutions and so on.

 

 

 

 

 

Participants during tea break


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