Book Cover
3 July 2023

The Power of Apology | In Conversation with Jacob Dlamini

Where: Grote Zaal, Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden

When: July 3, 2023 | 16:30 to 19:00

For this LeidenGlobal signature event, historian and author Jacob Dlamini will be in conversation with Wayne Modest (Director of Content, NMVW) and Carine Zaayman (Researcher, RCMC). The conversation will reflect on the current moment in time, marked by intensified focus on global inequality and discrimination, as well as a focus on the affordances and limitations of state apologies. We note the apology issued in December 2022 by Mark Rutte for the Netherlands’ role in the history of slavery. By drawing on examples from the South African past, we will explore if and how we might reckon with historical violence and oppression in the present. Against the background of Dlamini’s extensive archival research, we ask what happens if we think the museum as archive, while acknowledging archives as partial and uncertain records of the past. We will consider how these qualities hinder and assist us in the task of accounting for, with due complexity, those worlds entangled in colonialism and its afterlives.

Detail from the cover of The Terrorist Album, Apartheid’s Insurgents, Collaborators, and the Security Police, Harvard University Press (2020).


Our conversation is situated in the context of a more sustained reflection on ‘history’ within the Research Centre for Material Culture (RCMC). The ethnographic museum has long been described as concerning itself with the ‘people without history’, or as representing those lifeworlds of the many peoples it was presumed to ‘collect’ as being ‘outside of history’. Today, these museums are at the centre of deep, protracted reckonings with history and with how the past continues to shape societies and impact relations in the present. Indeed, museum objects are witnesses of and testimonies to the past, excised and ‘preserved’ in the present. As remains, they are the present past. For ethnographic and world cultures museums, these object-remains are the afterlives of the colonial past in the present. It is in acknowledging how history lives on and continues to shape our present that we attempt to understand better the genealogies of the world we inhabit as we write (new) histories of the present.

Jacob Dlamini is a visiting fellow at the Research Centre for Material Culture (RCMC) at the National Museum of World Cultures. This LeidenGlobal signature event is organized in collaboration with the RCMC, the research institute of the Museum Volkenkunde.


3 July 2023, Grote Zaal, Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden

16:30 - 17:00: Reception with coffee, tea and soft drinks

17:00 - 18:00: In Conversation with Jacob Dlamini, with Q&A with the audience

18:00 - 19:00: Bites & Drinks Borrel

About the speakers

Jacob Dlamini is a historian of Africa, with an interest in precolonial, colonial and postcolonial African History. He obtained a Ph.D. from Yale University in 2012 and is also a graduate of Wits University in South Africa and Sussex University in England. Jacob held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Barcelona, Spain, from November 2011 to April 2015, and was a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University from August 2014 to May 2015. A qualified field guide, Jacob is also interested in comparative and global histories of conservation and national parks.

Carine Zaayman (she/her) is an artist, curator and scholar committed to critical engagement with colonial archives and collections, specifically those holding strands of Khoekhoe pasts in South Africa. She is a researcher at the Research Center for Material Culture. The main focus of her curatorial work is in the project Under Cover of Darkness, which included an exhibition staged at the Iziko Slave Lodge in Cape Town, that explored the lives of women in servitude in the early Cape Colony. Zaayman obtained her PhD in Fine Art (Philosophy) at the University of Cape Town. 

Wayne Modest (he/him) is Director of Content of the National Museum of World Culture and the Wereldmuseum Rotterdam, in the Netherlands. He is also Professor (by special appointment) of Material Culture and Critical Heritage Studies at the VU, Amsterdam. A cultural studies scholar by training, Modest works at the intersection of material culture, memory and heritage studies, with a strong focus on colonialism and its afterlives in Europe and the Caribbean. His most recent publications include the co-edited publications, Matters of Belonging: Ethnographic Museums in A Changing Europe (2019) and Victorian Jamaica (2018). Modest has (co)curated several exhibitions, most recently, What We Forget, with artists Alana Jelinek, Rajkamal Kahlon, Servet Kocyigit and Randa Maroufi, an exhibition that challenged dominant, forgetful representations of Europe that erase the role of Europe’s colonial past in shaping our contemporary world.