Part of the COAC project

About the Project

Many if not most colonial ‘civilizing’ projects involved practices and policies to disconnect children from their parents, families, and communities. Via (boarding) schools, orphanages, foster-care, adoption or day-care, religious colonial institutions attempted to distance colonized children from what they saw as the ‘danger’ or ‘evils’ of the children’s culture, religion and way of life.

Archives pertaining to these forms of child separation were often scattered – over colonizing country and colonized territory, as well as over different institutions or organizations involved. This ‘colonial heritage gap’ as well as the complexity of archival research required professional historical crafts to re-connect fragments of stories of children who were disconnected from their families. The CCC project aims to bridge these professional findings with public interests.

Such archival fragments tend to frame the children’s stories from institutional or governmental perspectives. The CCC website presents this material in such a way that the child’s life is placed centre stage. We thereto attempt to piece the snippets of information around one child together. However, we also acknowledge the silences and questions these fragments are haunted with. And we wholeheartedly ask members of the public to contact us when they can help us filling in those gaps with the experiences and stories of the children involved in oder to connect stories, experiences and archival records.


We are continually looking to expand the stories of colonial children on our website and welcome community engagement.


This website is one of the outputs from the Project: “Children as Objects and Agents of Change. Strategies of (post)colonial development, 1880-2020”, led by Professor dr. Geertje Mak with funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (Research number: OND1366873), which ran from 2018-2022.


The Children as Objects and Agents of Change (COAC) network started in 2017 by bringing together European researchers who, independently and simultaneously, were delving into colonial interference in children’s lives as an important technique in colonial civilizing projects. The symposium Colonizing children (Mak, Amsterdam 2017) examined the links between historical research, development studies and non-governmental development organizations in the Netherlands. It addressed discourses and techniques of mobilizing children (education, vocational training) and identified various forms of ‘child removal’ that blended philanthropic and colonial discourses (freeing children from slavery, adoption, village re-settlement programs, boarding schools). These discourses and techniques were transferred between metropole and colony and reverberate in later campaigns of development organizations. The workshop ‘Colonialism and education in a comparative perspective: analyzing gendered civilizing missions (ca. 1850-1970)’ (Unger-Kamphuis, Florence 2017) focused on non-state colonial actors who constituted colonial society and whose civilizing missions shaped the realities of the lives of children in colonial context. The joint panel session ‘Creating European Loyalties: the Double-Edged Role of Children in Colonial Civilizing Projects’ (Mak-Monteiro-Jensz, Nijmegen 2017) concentrated on archival and methodological questions related to the agency of local children under Dutch and German colonial regimes.

Affiliated insitutes
The COAC-network is embedded in the following institutes and research groups:

1. Amsterdam School of Historical Studies, Modern History Group
The institutional setting of the project is within the Modern History Group of the Amsterdam School of History, where prof. dr. Geertje Mak teaches. Global, international and imperial history feature as a core interest of the Modern History Group, along with transnational approaches to European histories and cultural transfer across borders. 

2. Institute of Historical, Literary and Cultural Studies, Radboud University Nijmegen
The Institute for Historical, Literary and Cultural Studies assembles, promotes and integrates humanities research focusing on the complexities of the past and present of Europe in a changing world. Questions of Europa as metropole and its entanglements of empire are specifically addressed in the research group ‘Categories Contested’, which prof. dr. Marit Monteiro, dr. Maaike Derksen and Marleen Reichgelt are part of. The group concentrates on difference (gender, age, ethnicity, religion) as central mechanism in processes of categorization that have defined colonial realities, thereby integrating expertise from gender history, cultural history and religious history.

3. Centre for Gender and Diversity (CGD), Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Maastricht University
Research projects at the Centre for Gender and Diversity delve into the dynamic intersections between crucial categories of social differentiation, specially within the arts. The arts vitally contribute to the recycling and transformation of “behavioural scripts”. The centre studies art forms from high culture and popular culture, i.e. fiction, poetry, film, photography, life-writing, the performing arts, and children’s media. The Centre for Gender and Diversity (CGD) is represented in the COAC-network through co-applicant dr. Lies Wesseling, who is both the director of the CGD and associate professor in the Department of Literature and Art of Maastricht University. 

4. Cluster of Excellence for “Religion and Politics in Pre-Modern and Modern Cultures”, WWU Münster (Germany)
The Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics. Dynamics of Tradition and Innovation” has been investigating the complex relationship between religion and politics across epochs and cultures since 2007. The research network is the largest of its kind in Germany, one of the oldest among the clusters of excellence in Germany and the only one on the subject of religion. and the only one on the subject of religion. Through the historian PD Dr. Felicity Jensz, the Cluster of Excellence is represented in the COAC-network.

5.”Power in History”, Centre for Political History, University of Antwerp (Belgium)
The Centre for Political History of the University of Antwerp is represented in the initial network through prof. dr. Henk de Smaele. De Smaele has published books and articles on Belgian political history in the nineteenth century. His current research interests include the history of body, gender and sexuality (18th-20th centuries) and the history of ‘cultural encounters’. It is his present ambition to combine ‘queer’ and ‘postcolonial’ perspectives in a rethinking of the powerful and omnipresent metanarrative of ‘modernisation’ in cultural and political history. Currently, he supervises the project “Uprooted Childhoods: Practices of Transnational Child Displacements (Belgium, 1945-1980)” carried out by Chiara Candaele, which investigates how post-war cases of transnational child displacements were organized in Belgium against the backdrop of international evolutions on thinking about childhood. By studying (from a transnational and postcolonial perspective) the consecutive waves of children who were relocated to Belgium, the project launches research on the history of transnational adoption and foster care, while at the same time it will improve our understanding of the ideologies of childhood and family, as well as nation and ethnic identity, in post-war Belgium.

6. Department of History and Civilization, European University Institute (EUI), Florence (Italy)
The Department of History and Civilization (HEC) is one of the leading research groups in European history and Europe’s role in the world. HEC researchers are committed to transcending the confines of national history and engaging in major theoretical debates in the field of comparative, transnational and global history. HEC was represented in the COAC-network through prof. dr. Corinna Unger until 2021.

Publication by COAC network scholars

From 2018 onwards:



  • CAMMU Nola et al., Deelrapport historisch-sociaalwetenschappelijke werkgroep : expertpanel interlandelijke adoptie, Brussel: Vlaamse Ministerie van Welzijn, 2021.
  • CANDAELE Chiara & LAUWERS Delphine, “Het project ‘Resolutie-Metissen’ : archivalische vraagstukken tussen identiteit en confidentialiteit”, META, 2021, 10-15.


Vol. 135 No. 3-4 (2020): Child Separation: (Post)Colonial Policies and Practices in the Netherlands and Belgium

  • Candaele, Chiara. (2020) “Catholic humanitarianism and transnational adoptions of orphaned Indian Youth (Belgium, 1970-1984)”, in SCUTARU Beatrice & PAOLI Simone, Child Migration and Biopolitics. Old and New Experiences in Europe, London: Routledge, 64-84.
  • Mak, G., Monteiro, M., & Wesseling, E. (2020). ‘Child Separation: (Post)Colonial Policies and Practices in the Netherlands and Belgium.’ BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 135(3-4), 4–28.
  • Mak, G. (2020). ‘Children on the Fault Lines: A Historical-Anthropological Reconstruction of the Background of Children purchased by Dutch Missionaries between 1863 and 1898 in Dutch New Guinea.’ BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 135(3-4), 29–55.
  • Derksen, M. (2020). ‘Removing the Youth from their Pernicious Environment’: Child Separation Practices in South Dutch New Guinea, 1902-1921. BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 135(3-4), 56–79.
  • Reichgelt, M. (2020). ‘Children as Protagonists in Colonial History: Watching Missionary Photography.’ BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 135(3-4), 80–105.
  • de Leede, B. (2020). ‘Children Between Company and Church: Subject-Making in Dutch Colonial Sri Lanka, c. 1650-1790.’ BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 135(3-4), 106–132.
  • Kamphuis, K. (2020). ‘An Alternative Family: An Elite Christian Girls’ School on Java in a Context of Social Change, c. 1907-1939.’ BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 135(3-4), 133–157.
  • Monteiro, M. (2020). ‘Colonial Complicities: Catholic Missionaries, Chinese Elite and Non-kin Support for Chinese Children in Semarang During the 1930s.’ BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 135(3-4), 158–183.
  • Wesseling, E. (2020). ‘Brown Nieces and Nephews in an All-White World: Gender and Genre in Dutch Children’s Novels about the Dutch East Indies, 1890-1930.’ BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 135(3-4), 184–208.
  • Candaele, C. (2020). ‘Mother Metropole: Adoptions of Rwandan Minors in Postcolonial Belgium (1970-1994).’ BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review, 135(3-4), 209–233.
  • Kamphuis, Kirsten and Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk, ‘Education, Labour and Discipline: New Perspectives on Indigenous Children in Colonial Asia.’ International Review of Social History 65 (2020) No. 1: 1-14. doi: 10.1017/S0020859019000750 .


  • Candaele, Chiara, ‘Catholic humanitarianism and the adoption of Indian orphans. The case of the Belgian ‘Joy Sowers’ (1970-1984)’, in: Beatrice Scutaru and Simone Paoli (eds.), Child Migration in Europe. Old and New Experiences (London: Routledge, 2019).


  • Unger, Corinna, International Development: A Postwar History (London: Bloomsbury, 2018).
  • Kamphuis, Kirsten, ‘Giving for Girls: Reconsidering Colonial Civilizing Missions in the Dutch East Indies through Charitable Girls’ Education’, New Global Studies 12.2 (2018), Editors’ Forum:  Empires of Charity.  DOI: .
  • Jensz, Felicity, ‘Hope and Pity: Depictions of Children in Five Decades of the Evangelisch-Lutherisches Missionsblatt, 1860-1910’, in: Judith Becker, Christoph Nebgen and Katharina Stornig (eds.), Menschen—Bilder—Eine Welt. Ordnungen von Vielfalt in der religiösen Publizistik um 1900 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018): 223-245.
  • Unger, Corinna, ‘The Decolonization of Development: Rural Development in India Before and After 1947’, in: Miguel Bandeira Jerónimo and José Pedro Monteiro (eds.), Internationalism, Imperialism, and the Formation of the Contemporary World (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018): 253-278.
  • Candaele, Chiara, ‘Grenzeloos ouderschap? Historisch denken over interlandelijke adoptie en transnationale verplaatsingen van kinderen’, Contemporanea, 40.1 (2018): 1-5.
  • Reichgelt, Marleen, ‘The Mission’s Children: Practices of Appropriation in the Photographs of Marind Children in the Annalen van O.L. Vrouw van het H. Hart, 1907-1935’, Trajecta 27.1 (2018): 171-194.
  • Wesseling, ‘Elisabeth, Creating Historical Genealogies for Intercountry Adoption’, Adoption & Culture 6.1 (2018): 30-32.
  • Unger, Corinna, ‘Postwar European Development Aid: Defined by Decolonization, the Cold War, and European Integration?’, in: Stephen Macekura and Erez Manela (eds.), The Development Century: A Global History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018): 240-260.
  • Jensz, Felicity, ‘‘The 1910 Edinburgh World Missionary Conference and Comparative Colonial Education’, Special Issue: Imperial, Global and Local in Histories of Colonial Education, ed. Rebecca Swartz and Peter Kallaway, History of Education 47.3 (2018): 399-414. DOI:
  • Wesseling, Elisabeth and Jacques Dane, ‘Are “the Natives” Educable? Dutch Schoolchildren Learn Ethical Colonial Policy (1890-1910)’, Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society 10.1 (2018): 28-44.
  • Kamphuis, Kirsten, ‘Giving for Girls: Reconsidering Colonial Civilizing Missions in the Dutch East Indies through Charitable Girls’ Education.’ New Global Studies 12 (2018) No. 2: 217-234. doi: 10.1515/ngs-2018-0030 .