8 June 2021

Regimes of Taste

CONVERSATION | 8 June | 15:00 - 17:00 CET

To think through regimes of taste means that as European ethnographic museums we confront "those imaginative figures that were essential to modern self-understanding yet needed to be quarantined from the culture of modernity" and "the sensations and the guilty pleasures of modern life.”[1] Amongst other things, the goal of this conversation is to inform our curatorial work on The Erfenis/ Legacies of Colonialism exhibit, scheduled to open in 2022. 

[1] Simon Gikandi. Slavery and the Culture of Taste (Princeton UP, 2010): xii.

We would like to think through the below topics:

  • As per Madeleine Dobie’s work on the subject of obfuscation of origins—notably, in furniture and textiles, and particularly of the cotton “indiennes,” we are forced to take account of what she refers to as a veritable “revolution” in French clothing (99), one that would lead to an increased dependency on the colonies to provide the “raw materials” for Europe’s new tastes—in dress, in home furnishings, and in culinary needs (124). Yet, the recognition of the Americas—and slavery—as a “point of origin for new textiles, techniques, and styles […] long remained largely invisible” (124), even to the point of creating a complex web of “mechanisms of disavowal carried over into the postabolition era” (293).[1]
  • How do colonial practices of trading, commodities, and consumption affect our aesthetic and sensory relationships to how we ‘taste’ and live today in Europe? How do these long histories of trade still affect ‘source’ economies? 
  • How have the Dutch engaged in trading, colonialism, extractive labor technologies and structures, and slavery in the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans? What was (and still is perhaps) the relationship of the Dutch to other trading and (neo)colonial stakeholders?; 
  • As per Pepijn Brandon’s writings, how might we pay attention to the role of port cities (as opposed to the plantation), whereby “the everyday functioning of social and racial distinctions was much less straightforward in port cities, where intermingling among social groups was extensive and hard to control, movement of people and goods was a given due to their commercial function and geographical location straddling sea and hinterlands, and society was much more socially diverse.”[2] 
  • What was the role played by Dutch trading in ports in the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans, especially in relationship to the following products: coffee; tobacco; rice; palm oil; tin; bauxite; salt; and other spices; and, sugar?  
  • How might we pay attention to ‘the worlds they made’: Here we want to shift the focus from the colonizers to those who were in David Scott’s words “conscripted” into modernities,[3] and how they engaged in Achille Mbembe’s words in “attempts to reassemble some form of the social and of community and, as such, the form of attending to matters of care and matters of repair.”[4] Here we think notions of “Black joy”; of resistance; of solidarity; of care networks; of art and creation.


[1] Madeleine Dobie. Trading Places: Colonization and Slavery in Eighteenth-Century French Culture (Cornell UP, 2010).
[2] Pepijn Brandon. “Between the Plantation and the Port: Racialization and Social Control in Eighteenth-Century Paramaribo.” International Review of Social History. Special issue: “Free and Unfree Labor in Atlantic and Indian Ocean Port Cities.” Published 26 March 2019.
[3] David Scott. Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment. (Duke UP, 2004).
[4] Achille Mbembe. Necropolitics. (Duke UP, 2019): 159.
Image: The 'Living in a wide world' exhibition in the Tropenmuseum's atrium, 20 Dec 1963 - 15 Mar  1964. TM-60057888

Invited Speaker | Simon Gikandi

Simon Gikandi is Robert Schirmer Professor and Chair of English at Princeton University, where he is also affiliated with the Departments of Comparative Literature and African American Studies and the Program in African Studies. Before that he was Robert Hayden Collegiate Professor of English at the University of Michigan and the director of the Program in Comparative Literature. Gikandi was elected second vice president of the Modern Language Association (MLA) in December 2016. He  was the first vice-president of the MLA in 2018 and became the association's president in 2019. He served as editor of PMLA, the official journal of the MLA, from 2011 to 2016. Gikandi's major fields of research and teaching are Anglophone literatures and cultures of Africa, India, the Caribbean, and postcolonial Britain; literary and critical theory; the black Atlantic and the African diaspora; and the English novel. His current research projects are on slavery and modernity, African philology, and cultures of the novel. He is the author of many books and articles, including Writing in Limbo: Modernism and Caribbean LiteratureMaps of Englishness: Writing Identity in the Culture of Colonialism; and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a Choice Outstanding Academic Publication for 2004. He is the coauthor of The Columbia Guide to East African Literature in English since 1945, the editor of the Routledge Encyclopedia of African Literature, and the coeditor of The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature. His book Slavery and the Culture of Taste was winner of the MLA’s James Russell Lowell Award; winner of the Melville J. Herskovits Award, given by the African Studies Association for the most important scholarly work in African studies; and a Choice Outstanding Academic Title. He is the editor of The Novel in Africa and the Caribbean since 1950, volume 11 of the Oxford History of the Novel in English.


Invited Speaker | Pepijn Brandon

Pepijn Brandon is Assistant Professor in Economic and Social History at the VU, Amsterdam, and Senior Researcher at the International Institute of Social History. His work focuses on the intersections between the history of capitalism, war, and slavery. In 2019-2020, he was the coordinator of the City of Amsterdam's official research project into the city's historic ties to global slavery, and currently heads a larger research project on the involvement in slavery of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Dutch firms Hope & Co. and Mees & Zoonen. He was the Spring 2020 Erasmus Lecturer on the History and Civilization of the Netherlands and Flanders at Harvard University. 


Invited speaker | Madeleine Dobie

Madeleine Dobie is Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. She is also Chair and Director of Graduate Studies of the Department of French and a member of the Executive Committee of the Institute for Comparative Literature & Society.

Dobie’s current book project, After Violence: Culture, Politics and the Algerian New Wave is about literature, cinema and other forms of artistic expression in contemporary Algeria and their social and political valence. She is also editing A Comparative Literary History of Slavery, Vol. 1: Slavery, Literature & the Emotions. Her recent books include Relire Mayotte Capécia: une femme des Antilles dans l'espace colonial français, a critical re-edition of two mid twentieth-century novels by the Martinican writer, Mayotte Capécia and Trading Places: Colonization and Slavery in 18th-Century French Culturewhich examines the place of slavery in eighteenth-century French literature, philosophy and material culture, particularly textiles and furniture.