Go East, Young Man
Ever since its foundation in 1935 the International Institute of Social History took a lively interest in Asia - if only because the labour movement was a natural party to the debate on colonialism, Dutch or otherwise. Yet this interest has considerably grown in recent years. Unsurprisingly, this partly reflects Asia's enlarged role on the world stage, both economically and politically. At the same time, however, it results from a shift in focus of the Institute itself.
For the better part of its existence IISH spent most of its resources close to home. Before WW II it was almost alone in its efforts to rescue the literary heritage of the European labour movement from dictatorships of every shade, and after the war it remained for a long time an indispensable repository for organisations and individuals outside the Netherlands. Today, albeit still very important for international movements and organisations, it is less involved in their national equivalents: almost all European countries now have at least one archival institution of good standing in the field, which can cope very well on its own. The Institute can move on to areas where it may be more needed.
This coincides happily with fresh developments in historical research. For some time now, IISH has been launching an initiative to break out of the confines of traditional, Euro-centred labour history. One major tool is a series of comparative (and often interdisciplinary) projects, in which specialists from up to fifty countries are taking part. Asian labour, with its long and varied experience, is an increasingly noticeable ingredient. It figures even more prominently in the Institute's Strategic Plan for the final years of the century. That is why we felt we should draw attention to what we have done so far and what we have in mind. And by the way, your suggestions are welcome.
Jaap Kloosterman, Director