Since it was founded in 1851, the Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde / Royal Netherlands Institute for Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) had a threefold mission consisting of collections development and management, research and publishing academic work, mainly on Indonesia and the ‘Dutch’ Caribbean. The specific ways in which these goals were met changed tremendously during the past 160 years; as one can read in the 150th anniversary book published by Maarten Kuitenbrouwer, Between Orientalism and Science (in Dutch). In recent years, however, at the insistence of the KNAW, the umbrella organization which has governed KITLV since 2001, this threefold mission has been increasingly curtailed. The publishing house had to be closed in 2012; Brill Academic Publishers took over the publication of the Verhandelingen, the Caribbean Series, as well as magazines BKI and New West Indian Guide.  For example, in 2013, the English edition of Kuitenbrouwer’s book on the history of KITLV titled Dutch Scholarship in the Age of Empire and Beyond was not published by KITLV Press but by Brill.

In 2011 the Academy announced  that it would strive towards the establishment of a Humanities Center in Amsterdam where, it was intended, all humanities institutes of the Academy would cooperate closely.  During the past three years there have been intensive discussions between the Academy and the institutions involved.  KITLV had a special position in this discussion.  Initially, as the Academy considered abolition of KITLV among the possibilities. Fortunately this threat could be averted.  Both KITLV and Leiden University (UL) consistently maintained that, given the fields of inquiry and the national and international profile of UL, KITLV cannot be better situated than on the Leiden campus.  The board of the Academy showed its sensitivity for this reasoning.

At the end of 2013, there appeared a variant plan in which KITLV would remain on the Leiden campus and cooperation with institutes and colleagues from the UL would strengthen.  KITLV would remain a research institute of the Academy but would simultaneously become part of the currently developing Humanities Center. In contrast to this positive outcome, however, the current collections, owned by the Learned Society, will be transferred to the Leiden University library (UBL), which in the future will take care of the collection management of this loan.  Part of the relevant budget will shift from the Academy to UBL, while also providing a significant savings.  The details of this arrangement between the KNAW and the UL were agreed upon during the first half of 2014 as opposed to late 2013 as was intended.  In this arrangement KITLV loses the second and historically oldest and most important pillar of the institution, namely the development and management of its world-renowned collections.  This is particularly painful for the institute, especially the collections staff is either being transferred to the UBL or laid off.  However, according to this agreement the UL will continue to develop the collection to ensure the strengthening of KITLV’s research.  Under the circumstances, this seemed like the best possible outcome, as the General Assembly of the Association KITLV concluded.

Understandably, as this has been ongoing since 2011, the administrative process has required considerable of effort. There has also been tremendous unrest among members, also known as users, and especially in the workplace of KITLV.  Nevertheless, the regular services were continued with unparalleled professionalism. In this historical sketch a few special developments and achievements since 2011 will be highlighted.

The Learned Society not only organized several meetings in which the members were consulted on the administrative developments, but also offered a number of well-attended meetings such as ‘Ticket to Leiden; New Indonesian histories and postcolonial collections in the Netherlands’ and a lecture on slavery in conjunction with the major exhibition Black & White in the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. Alert action on behalf of KITLV’s collection managers and consultation with the managers of the collection of the Royal Tropical Institute resulted in the acquisition of several thousand titles on Indonesia and the Dutch Caribbean from the period 1950-70.  KITLV also acquired a number of special collections, including a unique and extensive photo collection, offered by antiquarian Minerva from The Hague.

In 2013 UNESCO honored the application for inclusion of two editions of the Babad Diponegoro, a manuscript about the Javanese prince Diponegoro, in the UNESCO register ’Memory of the World’.  This application was, under the auspices Indonesian UNESCO commission, made ​​jointly by the National Library of Indonesia and KITLV. Its success generated a great deal of publicity, especially in Indonesia, in which KITLV was always explicitly and thankfully recognized as a partner.

In January 2013, at the Erasmus Huis in Jakarta the exhibition Mapping the History: KITLV: World-Class Collections and Scholarship on Indonesia opened in the presence of former President BJ Habibie and many other dignitaries. It also generated tremendous public interest. For this occasion a great number of special historical prints, photographs, manuscripts and publications were sent from Leiden to Jakarta for display.

Over the past two decades research has become an increasingly important pillar of KITLV and the institute has set several major themes on the international research agenda. This is especially apparent in the research programs ’From Clients to Citizens?’ and ’Elite Network Shifts.’ In both cases, the subjects gradually widened; there is substantial external funding, and close cooperation with foreign researchers, including in Indonesia. Senior researcher Gerry van Klinken was appointed as extraordinary professor in the social and economic History of Southeast Asia at the University of Amsterdam. The chair has been created by KITLV and is a continuation of the previous KITLV – chair at the University of Amsterdam, which was held by Peter Boomgaard.  On October 2, 2013, Prof. van Klinken gave his riveting inaugural lecture entitled ‘Murder in Maumere; Postcolonial Citizenship.’


In 2001 KITLV Press published a book in Dutch on the history of 150 years KITLV: Maarten Kuitenbrouwer, Tussen oriëntalisme en wetenschap (Between Orientalism and Science). In 2013, the English version of the book, translated by Lorri Granger and edited by Harry Poeze, appeared under the title Dutch Scholarship in the Age of Empire and Beyond.

As from July 1, 2014, the KITLV library and collections are managed by University Libraries Leiden (UBL). Please check out these recommendations to (continue to) make use of these collections.