class="csc-frame csc-frame-default"Who tells us where the centers and peripheries of knowledge are?

Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Universität Zürich

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Zentrum Geschichte des Wissens

Universität Zürich

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

PHILIPP KRAUER

Swiss 'Tools of Empire'. A transnational history of mercenaries in the Dutch East Indies, 1814–1914


Between 1814 and 1914 around 7.600 Swiss Mercenaries fought for the Dutch Colonial Army (KNIL) in South East Asia. The KNIL recruited up to 60% of its European soldiers outside the Netherlands. In relation to the size of its population, Switzerland was one of the main suppliers of 'foreign' European troops to KNIL. So far, historians of Switzerland and the Dutch Colonies have hardly ever studied these Swiss 'living tools of empire' (Bossenbroek). This project puts these men on centre-stage, by examining them as agents of historical entanglements and asking: How did they help build the Dutch Empire in South East Asia, and how did their imperial careers shape 19th century Switzerland?

The aim is firstly, to create a database with Swiss mercenaries from large yet hitherto unexplored holdings in the Swiss Federal Archives, and from Dutch Colonial Archives. From this database, patterns and changes with regard to the social and geographical origins of these men can be reconstructed, as well as regarding their theatres of deployment in the Dutch East Indies.

These insights prompt, secondly, inquiries into the structural causes and individual motivations to serve in the Indies, their actions and experiences there, as well as into their life and career trajectories as veterans in Switzerland or elsewhere.

Thirdly, the project seeks to use these newly created source collections to examine entanglements created by some exceptionally well documented groups and individuals: How did they engage economically, culturally, socially, or sexually with societies in the Indies-and how did those experiences affect their later career trajectories in Switzerland or elsewhere?

This project hence contributes to three fields of research: 1) While the rich literature on the history of the Swiss Mercenary Trade has limited itself to examining only European ‘military labour markets’ during the Early Modern Period, the proposed project will study the continuities of this trade in non-European theatres of violence in the 19th and early 20th century. 2) It contributes to new approaches in Dutch and Swiss historiography inspired by postcolonial and new imperial history. 3) It joins efforts within Global history to replace euro-centric and nationalistic narratives in European history by narratives of 'trans-imperial' entanglements created, in particular, through social networks cutting across national and imperial state-boundaries.