The origin of 'African Studies' at Leiden University - the archives of P.J. Idenburg made accessible

The library of the African Studies Centre Leiden houses a dozen scholarly archives in its collection. One of these archives is particularly interesting because the papers belonged to legal scholar Petrus Johannes Idenburg, one of the founders of the African Studies Centre.

Idenburg (1898-1989), born in Rotterdam, was a jurist specialized in Constitutional Law. He graduated in Law from the University of Amsterdam in 1920 and continued his studies at the London School of Economics. When he returned to the Netherlands he became a secretary of the mayor of Amsterdam in 1922 and secretary of the Board of Curators of the University of Amsterdam. In the 1930s he moved to Leiden University to do the same job: legal and administrative tasks within the university.

Idenburg was a man of character. He refused to cooperate with the German authorities during World War II. Though Leiden University was officially closed down in November 1940, some offices were still functioning such as the hospital, the library and several research facilities. Idenburg resigned as a secretary of the Curators of Leiden University in June 1942 and was restored in his function in 1945.

When the Netherlands were looking for new markets after WWII, Idenburg saw opportunities in Africa. As a Board member of various Dutch-South African associations he had travelled to Africa and was aware of the potential of the continent. Together with a banker from Rotterdam (Karel Paul van der Mandele) and a law professor from Leiden (Frederik Mari baron van Asbeck) he founded the African Studies Centre in Leiden, which he led as a Director from 1947 to 1963. In the first decade, the Centre was in fact a documentation centre which functioned as a library and published practical reports on African countries.

From 1947 Idenburg taught African Studies at Leiden University. From 1963 to 1968 he was a special lector for Constitutional Law of Africa. He was a member of the Dutch Advisory Council for Development Cooperation for many years. Idenburg’s memoires, privately published in 1987 (Herinneringen van mr. P.J. Idenburg), give a striking insight into university matters in the Netherlands from 1925 to 1960. Idenburg also regularly tells about his visits to African countries such as Ghana, South Africa and Namibia (then called South West Africa).

The P.J. Idenburg archival collection consists of four boxes containing correspondence, article manuscripts and reprints, lecture notes, and miscellanea. Of special interest are the material on the Mandates Commission South West Africa (1937-1940), papers on the Bukavu Conference (1955), notes about trips to Moscow and Washington (1960-1961) and material on INCIDI, Institut International des Civilisations Différentes (Brussels).

See the general description of the Idenburg archives.

Would you like to consult this archive, please contact the ASCL Library:

Jos Damen, April 2017