Stanley Ch. Marugg: Nederlandse Antillen
In the summer of 2004 I spent two months on Curaçao (Netherlands Antilles) to gather material for my master thesis in the history of art at Leiden university. The central question in my study is the way in which the dwellings owned by the Lauffer family represented the family's socio-economic identity by their spatial arrangement, function, form and material in the nineteenth century colonial society of Curaçao. The topic for my MA-thesis emerged from a combination of existing knowledge about my family history with two other personal interests, social history and residential architecture. This combination turned out to be an ideal subject for me.
My ancestors settled on the island of Curaçao as early as in the eighteenth century and hence the island has had a near-magical appeal to me since a very young age. My grandmother's lively stories about the colonial way of life, featuring old family mansions, plantations and the complex but intriguing social relations and secrets within the colonial society had a fascinating effect on me. As a result, for a number of years I have been researching my family history both in Europe and in the New World.
Prof.dr. A.J.J. Mekking helped me in theoretically structuring my research project. The theory of representation appeared to yield most enlightening insights as it can be employed to connect material objects (houses) with the family's socio-economic identity, which is represented through these objects. The central question of my research project was how the various types of residences and their spatial arrangement expressed the family's social-economic identity during the nineteenth century.
In order to answer this question it was first of all necessary to draw a picture of the cultural-historical context. In order to be able to do this I studied the administrative and socio-economic structures, the architectural and living traditions and the spatial arrangement of the island's urban structure. Secondly, a re-evaluation of the historical material concerning the family was important. Finally, a detailed description of the family's possession had to be made.
The part of my research that was carried out in the Netherlands centred on studying existing literature and historical maps in the KITLV (Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Carribean Studies) in Leiden, genealogical research in the National Archive in The Hague and the Oud Archief Curaçao (Old Curaçao Archives). On Curaçao I spent a couple of weeks in the Centraal Historisch Archief (Central Historical Archive), which resulted in the stock-taking of all possessions based on information from the register of the Registry Office, notaries records and the Koloniaal Archief (Colonial Archives). In addition, I consulted photographic, cartographic and private collections.
A lot of data (mainly nineteenth century) were available in the Centraal Historisch Archief on Curaçao. The archive staff there is very helpful. Talking to volunteers working on (private) research or indexing projects also helped me a great deal in carrying out my research. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century only a few thousand people lived on the island and consequently the archives are not immense. However, due to the low level of indexation I needed considerable more time then expected to find specific documents. This can be a problem when time is limited to search for information but if time restrictions are not so severe it's even possible to browse through complete, for instance, notaries' records. My research in the Netherlands (National Archive, KITLV) was indispensable for embedding my research objects in their historical context. Visiting the objects, plots and former plantations of my research was possible simply by asking the present owners or tenants. Overall I experienced a great helpfulness.
On the basis of this pre-study I selected three residential housing which are exemplary for three functional types: a plot in Scharloo (urban district), including a eighteenth century main house and a nineteenth century urban villa, a small plantation Bleinheim close to town which functioned as a country house and a large plantation (Damasco alias Jan Thiel) with salt pans in one of the outer districts. Besides the archival research I interviewed a considerable number of local experts and relatives of old age. I walked through the urban neighbourhoods and visited houses, plantation and cemeteries.
In the light of the inclusion of Willemstad and surroundings on the UNESCO World Heritage List and the call for additional research into overseas heritage, I hope to have contributed to improve the documentation and research of a special part of the Dutch cultural heritage. The research on Curaçao was a great experience and resulted in a voluminous thesis which I have very much enjoyed working on for four months.