Geertje Mak is professor of the Political History of Gender in the Netherlands at the University of Amsterdam and a researcher at NL-Lab. Transgressions of gender and sex in Europe during the long nineteenth century are the focus of her books on masculine women and the boundaries of gender in nineteenth-century Europe (Boom 1997) and Doubting Sex. Inscriptions, Bodies and Selves in Nineteenth Century Hermaphrodite Case Histories (Manchester University Press 2012).
In addition to gender history, Mak’s research interests include migration history, the history of science (on race, gender and sexuality) and colonial history. Over time, she has shifted from analysing narratives and discourse to focusing more on the material and practical dimensions of her research objects. How are sex, race or colonisation enacted in practice? This shift in approach is evident in Doubting Sex and in Mak’s recent research into anthropometric practices in Dutch colonies around 1900. The physicality and materiality of practices such as measuring colonised people demonstrate that race was not only a scientific outcome, but also its necessary precondition.
At NL-lab, Mak will focus on the themes of identity and of colonisation. Within the ‘To Transfer’ programme, she will reflect on the role of gender, sexuality and generations in constructing colonial identities and (racially) inherited difference. She aims to develop a concept based on the Dutch word ‘geslacht’ – which simultaneously refers to sex/gender, generation and lineage – and the expression ‘from geslacht to geslacht’. In the ‘To Form’ programme, she will focus on the way in which this is given concrete form. Drawing on the concept of the ‘household’, she will examine the radical transformations that Dutch missionaries tried to realise in Papuan daily life, in relation to food, lifestyle, work, the market, sexuality, upbringing, faith and morals. Within the envisaged joint research on cultivation, she aims to study the ‘colony’ as a model: as an ideal and practice aimed at cultivating both people and land in the Netherlands and the Dutch colonies.