The Cultivar project investigates the historical links between the cultivation of a country, animals and humans. It focuses in particular on the concept of the colony. A colony or ‘human settlement’ was a form – an ideal type – where the reclamation and cultivation of land went hand in hand with the development or education of people, both in the Netherlands and in its overseas colonial territories. In the Netherlands, there were colonies for paupers, criminals and orphans, and later for the unemployed and Jews. Similar projects were launched or planned in the colonies, such as the Cultivation System in the Dutch East Indies. The concept of the colony lay at the basis of the decision to ship contract labourers from Java to other territories, and the detailed plans to ‘transplant’ parts of the Dutch population to Suriname. The work camps of the 1930s, neighbourhoods for the impoverished and the IJsselmeerpolders were derived from the idea of the ‘colony’. The concept of the colony captured the deep-rooted ideal that labour should be used to exploit land and people to the full. Through colonisation and foreign aid, this model has been presented all over the world as ‘progressive’ and ‘modern’. To this day, it is associated with land-grabbing, depletion of the earth’s resources, and the dismantling of self-sufficient economies under the guise of labour for the (global) market.


The Cultivar project brings together academics from various disciplines to research how cultivation processes in the colonies were linked to those in the homeland. Moreover, the project considers how representation strategies in literature and the visual arts were used to support and legitimise cultivation practices.