The Near and Middle East

Like all scholars from his generation, Posthumus long maintained a Eurocentric perspective, not on principle but in practice. Until the Second World War, he was moreover very busy gathering Dutch and subsequently endangered European archives. While he did obtain colonial documents for the NEHA from the Dutch East and West Indies (now Indonesia and Suriname and the Antilles, respectively), this made little difference; in any case, in the 1970s the NEHA transferred much of this material on loan to the Dutch state. Only in his golden years did Posthumus shift his focus. As the director of Brill publishing company, with its strong Oriental backlist, he launched the Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient in 1957. At age 77 he thus combined two of his previous initiatives, the launch of the NEHA-Jaarboek in 1914 and the International Review for Social History in 1946, in an entirely new field.

At first the IISH was not affected by this. The pronounced focus on Europe long remained visible organizationally as well: only in 1964 were Africa and Asia separated from the Dutch department and assigned to Indonesian-history connoisseur Fritjof Tichelman (together with Anglo-Saxon countries until 1968). In the late 1980s, when the Institute started to revise its collection policy, he was gradually joined by specialists in Turkish, Chinese, Iranian, and Arabic social history. One of the driving forces behind this interest in Arab and Islamic circles was the arrival in Western Europe of what were known as guest workers – in the Netherlands primarily Turkish and Moroccan labour migrants, later followed by their families. The beginning of efforts to collect material about the Near and the Middle East coincided with the attempt to ban Eurocentrism from the history of the labour movement at the Institute’s new research department.